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12 Types of Blog Posts You Need to Stop Writing

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blog posts you need to stop writing

“Add more content!”

That seems to be the battle cry these days. Keeping your blog as updated as possible does make sense. Although some argue that quality matters less than quantity, while this is true, I can say without a doubt through my own experiences, that if you have more content, you’re going to get more traffic than if you have less content, as long as you maintain quality. At one of our past events, Chris Brogan mentioned seeing similar results – when he posts fewer times per week, his traffic goes down.

That of course doesn’t mean you should just be throwing crap up on your blog to try to hit a certain number of posts every week. I think most serious bloggers understand this. However, I still see a lot of bad posts in my Twitter stream every day. Remember, it only takes one bad post to make someone unsubscribe (or never subscribe in the first place).

You can’t please everyone, but I believe the following twelve types of post have no place on a good blog:

news

1. Rehashed News

You’re never going to compete with huge news sites unless you have millions of dollars to throw into your own media outlet. If all your post accomplishes is summarizing a story you saw on Google News or Reuters, you haven’t accomplished anything other than boring your readers. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t post news at all. In fact, posting news is a great idea for most bloggers. But when you do it, consider:

  • Picking up the phone to get a quote from an expert that can add something new to the story
  • Adding your own opinion or analysis to the story
  • Doing a round-up of what other people are saying about the story
  • Putting the story in a different context (i.e. finding a unique angle)
  • Coming up with a how-to related to the story
  • Looking at what people are saying about the story via social media and talking about their unique opinions

In other words, make your coverage of the story something different than what people are going to read from a huge news outlet. For example, when Pinterest announced the addition of “secret boards,” we didn’t just post about this new feature, which many were doing. We posted three ways to use secret boards, so our story was unique and helpful to readers.

If you’re dead-set on posting news stories that report just the facts, consider taking a new approach to your blog completely and really attacking one specific niche. For example, if you like entertainment news, maybe instead of posting all sorts of celebrity news, which sites like TMZ already do, you can post specifically about celebrity babies or a certain genre or music or celebrities who are buying homes. Nich-ifying can help you find an audience even if you’re not publishing unique stories.

interview

2. Posts with More Quotes than Original Content

I love a good quote, but if the entire story is just quoting another blogger or news story, you might as well be scraping their content. Yes, it might be completely valid to publish a small part of someone’s post with a link back to the rest, but that doesn’t make you a blogger. It makes you a content curator. Again, what can you add that makes the story special or adds another layer or helpfulness?

There are so many possibilities. You can “debate” the other blogger with a post of your own, build upon his/her ideas, or even do an interview with the blogger to delve deeper into the story. If all you want to do is share an excellent quote from a blog post you read, here are some better ways to do that:

  • Share the quote via Twitter with a link back to the source
  • Post the quote in a related forum with a link back to the source
  • Create an image using the quote a publish on Facebook or Twitter with a link back to the source
  • Share the quote as part of your email newsletter with a link back to the source

Your actual posts should be more than just republishing someone else’s words.

reader

3. Theory without Practicality

This one drives me nuts.

I love to read what you think about a certain topic, but what I love every more are practical tips. Don’t just tell me why. Tell me how. If all I can do is read your information, but I have no idea how to actually apply it to any part of my life, your post isn’t very beneficial to me.

I’m guilty of this one. I think we all have a tendency to get really passionate about our opinions. And while opinions are great, they rarely stand alone if there’s no practical counterpart. Sometimes, this is as simple as including a few links to post that are straight-forward how-tos. Your entire post doesn’t have to be about teaching someone how to do something.

The problem is that many bloggers publish these types of posts but never follow up. So, as a reader, I’m lost. Don’t write “10 Reasons Why You Should….” unless you follow up or link to how to actually do that task. You’ve convinced me! Now tell me what to do to get started.

PIC01595.JPG

4. Common Sense Posts

Worse than “theory” posts are common sense posts. I get it; we’re all beginners at some point. You can’t ignore your readers who are just learning about a topic for the first time. Only posting advanced-level stuff isn’t the right choice for most bloggers.

But even beginners have common sense.

For example, let’s say that your blog is about cooking and you want to publish “10 Things Every Kitchen Needs.” That sounds like a great post – but if your 10 items include a pot and a pan, I’m going to roll my eyes. Newbie cooks might not realize how helpful it can be to own a strainer or a food processor, but come on…they know that they need a pot and a pan.

Take things a step farther and be more useful. If you’re going to do something so 101-leve that it includes telling new home chefs to buy a pot and pan, at least tell them what kind to buy and why. What size is best? What material? What brand? Go a step beyond common sense, even with your beginner-level posts.

headline extra

5. Posts that don’t Deliver on Headline Promises

If I click on a post you share on Twitter and the content doesn’t deliver what the headline promised, I’m probably going to unfollow you. Your headline builds trust with the reader. If your content isn’t what they expect, you lose that trust, and it’s nearly impossible to get it back again once lost.

The biggest offender I see of this is the use of the term “secret.” If you’re going to give me “10 Secrets to Writing Better Blog Posts,” I better not show up to your post and see that secret number one is to optimize for search engines, secret number two is to use headers, secret number three is to include an image, etc. Those are not secrets. Those are 101-level tips. “Secrets” implies that the post is going to be advanced – that these are tips I’ve probably not come across before or am not already using.

Another offender is telling me something is “awesome” or “killer” or “ninja” or “rock star.” If you use any of those terms, you better deliver on that promise. It’s not that you have to stop using these words (and related words) to describe your content. Just understand that you’re setting the bar high, so there’s a bigger probability that people will be disappointed by the content if it doesn’t deliver.

beach

6. “Sorry I’ve Been Away” Posts

Sometimes, there are unforeseen circumstances that require us to be away from our blogs. When you’re ready to start up again, it’s really tempting to write a “Sorry for being gone” post to explain what you were doing.

To me, that’s a throw-away post. Unless what you were doing is super interesting, I don’t need to hear your excuses and explanations. I just want posts like you used to publish. Mention why you were gone at the beginning of your next post if you must, but just get back to your schedule instead of spending 500 words to tell me that you had the flu or were snagging some beach time.

love myself

7. Ego Strokers

A few months ago, I wrote a post about blogging success and whether your success stems from content that helps people or content that is simply what people want to hear. The latter is little more than ego-stroking. It really isn’t hard to get people to rally behind you when you say, “Hitler was bad.” This is also true with less extreme examples. If your audience is primarily working moms, it isn’t hard to get people to agree with an op-ed about the need for flexible scheduling for parents who work.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t post something you’re super passionate about, but don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone – and to ask your audience to step out of theirs. If you are promoting a popular opinion, add your “something special” to the post, whether that means including some how-to tips, playing devil’s advocate, or quote an expert. What can you add to the story that makes it unique? (Am I started to sound like a broken record yet?)

scales

8. How *Blank* is like *Blank* Posts

When I first started blogging, I wrote a lot of this type of post. But you know what? They’re kind of dumb. Congratulations, you found a creative comparison between two things. Unless your post is meant to be funny (Think: “How Your Baby is like a Tiny Ninja”) or teaches you something interesting (Think: “How Soft Drinks are like Addictive Drugs”), the post is another throw away.

Even if you think your post is teaching something, ask yourself…”Is it really?” Remember, you want people to walk away with specific, practical tips not a bunch of random information that doesn’t really relate because you were stretching to find comparison points.

snarky

9. Snark

When you’re snarky on your blog, you’re really nothing more than an online, adult bully. Yes, it can make you popular, because some people thrive on drama, but will it make you respected? No way.

You can still be opinionated and even write in a “snarky” style. The key with snark is to talk about things that happen, not specific people or companies. Erika Napoletano is a great example of something who has a snarky writing style, but in a good way.

Of course, you can also still voice your opinion about someone or some company you don’t like, but when you do so, have a little class. Make points that you can back up instead of just snarking. You’re not going to do yourself any favors if you’re just flat-out mean.

And keep in mind that when you’re snarky, you lose business. Even if you see your traffic go up because people think you’re funny or are attracted to negative leadership, when all you do is snark about crap you don’t like, brands won’t want to work with you. Brands like bloggers who give honest, thoughtful, thorough opinions, not drama queens (and kings).

gossip

10. Rumors

When you post a rumor like it is news, it makes me question your dedication to the niche. It’s okay to comment on rumors, but I’ve seen several popular blogs run rumors as though they are confirmed stories.

This happens even more frequently when bloggers are republishing blog posts that are republished from other blog posts. It’s like a game of telephone. Along the way, rumors turn to facts, which can be confusing for the reader and unfair for all parties involved.

Take the time to find the original source of a story and confirm facts with a reputable site or expert. Hint: Wikipedia is not a reputable site.

Remember, gossip is as bad as rumors. Sometimes gossip is made up of rumors but other times, gossip is someone saying to you “I’m not supposed to know this, but I overheard…” If you can’t confirm it by printing the source, it is as good as a rumor. “Facts” are overheard out of context all the time.

shock

11. Sensationalist Stories

The media thrives on emotion. Facts are skewed so that someone’s agenda is supported in the most emotionally charged way possible.

Sensationalism can drive a ton of traffic, but it ultimately damages your credibility.

When you post facts on your blog, be aware of your own biases. It’s okay to post your opinion, but if you’re presenting supporting facts, make sure those facts are accurate. If there was a study done, how many people took part in the study, how were they chosen to participate, and when were the stats collected? A survey of 60 people in rural Texas asked about their opinion on gun laws will yield a much different result than a survey of 10,000 people from across the country on the same topic. A study on cancer patients’ diets done 50 years ago is going to give you different results than a study on the same topic done today.

In the end, make sure that the information you’re posting is the most up-to-date, unbiased information possible, not just the best information to support your personal viewpoints. That way, if you’re firing people up, it’s for the right reasons, not because you’re manipulating data to scare people.

peacock

12. Posts that aren’t Your Best Work

Finally, I’m using a picture of a peacock here, because I hope you are always proud to show off your work. If a post isn’t your best work, don’t hit that publish button. Simple as that.

All the time, I hear the advice that your work doesn’t need to be good, it needs to be “good enough.” There’s something to be said for analysis paralysis and being so caught up in the details that you never get the job done. However, if you write a post and feel “meh” about it, reconsider before you publish. How can I as the reader get excited if you as the writer don’t even care?

You should always strive for the best. Pretend this post you’re writing is going to be seen by Oprah. Imagine if you lost your job today and your last post was the post a new employer would be looking at to consider you for their open position. Get morbid and think about how the last post would represent you if you died tomorrow.

Take pride in the work you do, always. It only takes one bad post to make me hit the back button and be gone from your blog forever.

Your turn: What kind of posts do you wish people would stop writing?

Bloggers, Are You So Focused On “What Works” That You Forget “What’s Right”?

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Like all bloggers, I can sometimes get a little wrapped up in stats. I love looking at my traffic, doing split testing, and trying out new techniques. One of the reasons I enjoy attending NMX (previously BlogWorld) is learning new ways to get traffic, how to create content that engages readers, and build a brand online. I’m always interested in hearing about others’ experiences with what works and what doesn’t work.

But sometimes, I worry that we get so focused on what works that we forget what’s right.

NMX has been part of the “are Internet marketers scammers” debate for quite some time, and I feel like this is the core of the issue: Almost any tool or technique used to make money online can be manipulated by scammers.

Let’s use SEO (search engine optimization) and guest posting as an example. You can boost your SEO through writing high-quality guest posts on others’ blogs and linking back to your own blog within the post or at the end of the post in a bio line.

Someone using this technique the right way will link to high-quality, relevant posts that give the reader more information. They’ll be upfront about where the link leads and seek to guest post on blogs that have a connection to their own niche.

Someone trying to game the system will write low-quality articles stuffed with keyword links. They don’t care about the topic. They don’t care about whether or not the links are beneficial for readers. They only care about their precious links. Often, they don’t even write these posts themselves, but instead hire freelancers. Now, as a freelance writer myself, I can say that there’s nothing wrong with hiring a freelancer to write guest posts for you, but not if you pay them $3 per post to basically “spin” or even blatantly plagiarize stuff already online.

Luckily, Google is increasingly improving their search engine algorithm to prevent any kind of manipulation like this, but it still happens. I see it all the time.

It’s tempting to do whatever works. You have to keep up with the Joneses, and if all the other bloggers in your niche are doing it to gain advantage, it’s hard to say no. If crappy guest posts on unrelated blogs give you a huge boost in search engine traffic why wouldn’t you do it?

Because despite it being what works, it’s not what’s right.

What is right for your readers? What is right for the Internet? Are you making the world better in some way or are you contributing to the problem?

I haven’t always made the best decisions with my own blogs. I’ve tried techniques and tools that resulting in huge ROI, but just didn’t sit right with me from an ethical standpoint. I think it’s okay to make these mistakes as long as you’re constantly monitoring yourself.

When’s the last time you held yourself accountable?

The reason people who make money online (especially those teaching others how to make money online too) get labeled as scammers is because there’s a lack of this self-regulation. We need to be better than that. Before calling out others we feel are scamming people or only contributing trash to the Internet, it’s important to look internally. Ask yourself, what can I be doing better?

And definitely speak up. It can be intimidating to say that a popular blogger is doing something you don’t agree with, but the only way this world of online content will get better is if we’re all honest about our own activities and willing to vet our role models. When you go against the crowd with legitimate concerns, you might be surprised at how many people agree with you.

Lastly, if you’re heading to NMX this January, please take the time to fill out the surveys about individual speakers after attending sessions or even just shoot us an email with any concerns. We don’t just want to know who is a good public speaker. We also want to know who is teaching valuable information, not contributing to the problem by promoting techniques you consider to be scams. There is definitely some grey area here, but your opinion matters to us.

Working in Social Media at 27: Yes, I Am Over The Hill

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I’m 27 years old, and that’s me pictured at right pouting. Why? Because according to Cathryn Sloane, I am too old to be a social media manager. In her post yesterday, “Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25,” Cathryn writes,

“You might argue that everyone, regardless of age, was along for the ride, or at least everyone under the age of 30. I’m not saying they weren’t, but we spent our adolescence growing up with social media. We were around long enough to see how life worked without it but had it thrown upon us at an age where the ways to make the best/correct use of it came most naturally to us. No one else will ever be able to have as clear an understanding of these services, no matter how much they may think they do.”

Of course, outrage ensued. Nearly all of my social-media-savvy friends commented on this story on Facebook, with most linking to it and some even writing their own blog posts about it. On the New Media Expo Facebook page, there’s currently 50 comments on our share of this story…and counting.

In other words, people are not happy.

A New Understanding

Cathryn is right that every generation has defining events and overall themes. These events or themes shape the way you think. I would go even further and say that this is not age-related. When you belong to a certain group, you have experiences that shape the way you think. I’m from a rural area, so I’m going to think differently than someone from a large city. I’m female so I’m going to think differently than a male. I’m tall so I’m going to think differently than someone who is short.

I’m 27, so I’m going to think differently than someone who is 67.

These differences do not wholly define us, nor do they make us better or worse than someone else. But let’s not pretend that these differences aren’t there at all, and age definitely leads to a different way of thinking. We don’t always understand why someone older or younger than we are acts a certain way. This lack of understanding is not a problem unless we fail to acknowledge it.

In fact, I don’t like the term lack of understanding. I would instead say that with each generation, there is a new understanding of the world. Not better, just new. We need to be honest about that.

Generation Y has a new understanding of social media. When we dismiss this fact, we fail to see the whole picture.

How Generation Y is Different

Social media is nothing new. At the heart of it, marketing is marketing, whether you are doing it on Twitter or on in a print ad campaign. But when marketing to different age groups, you wouldn’t do it the same way. Think of an extreme case, like promoting a product to a 70-year-old grandparent versus a 7-year-old grandchild. If you use the same technique, you will probably fail because these people are at different points in life and want different things. But these people also want different things because of how and when they grow up. If you take that 70-year-old person and rewind until they are once again seven years old too, he’s probably going to respond to the same marketing differently than the 7-year-old from current times.

As the age gap narrows, these differences aren’t as stark, but they’re still there.

So a member of Generation Y is, in general, going to have different needs than a member of Generation X. In fact, studies have show that there are stark differences between Generation Y and other generations.

  • Less than half of 16- to 24-year-olds were employed during the summer of 2011. This is the smallest percentage since 1948, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployment at such high rates during young adult years is a unique experience for this generation. (Stats source)
  • About 5.9 million Americans aged 25 to 34 lived with their parents as of 2012, according to the U.S. census. This is a whooping 25% increase from 2007. Studies also show that Generation Y adults are putting off marriage longer than their Generation X and Baby Boomer counterparts. Again, this “delay” of an independent life with family responsibilities is unique to this generation. (Stats source)
  • On average, 18-24 year olds send or receive about 109 text messages per day. This number drops to about 42 for 25-34 year old, and then drops even lower for Generation X and Baby Boomers (about 26 for 35-44 year olds, about 14 for 45-54 year olds and under 10 for older cell phone users). And keep in mind that this is just looking at cell phone users, not averaging in zeros for people who don’t have cell phones. So, one of the main ways Generation Y communications is not nearly as readily used by older generations. (Stas source)

These are of course just three examples of how Generation Y is different. Why does this matter when it comes to the age of social media managers? Because these differences aren’t learned and can’t be unlearned. They are natural and inherent. Many members of Generation Y don’t remember what it’s like to not have a cell phone in hand and they aren’t on the same life paths that members of older generations were on when they were leaving high school and college.

A Discussion, Not a Debate

I’m not afraid to admit that Cathryn is right: at 27, I’m already over the hill. How do I know this? Because whenever I’m visiting my family over holidays, I take the time to talk to my younger cousin, Katie (pictured at right), who is now 17 years old. Technically, we’re both members of Generation Y, but I find picking her brain is fascinating and enlightening.

Did you know that when her and her friends want to plan something special, they don’t send out evites? Okay, maybe not so surprising…but how about this: they usually don’t create events on Facebook either. It’s not for lack of checking Facebook. They’re just not into it for anything casual. They instead start a text message chain and invite people and track RSVPs that way.

Did you know they don’t have email? Part of the reason they definitely don’t do evites or any other party-planning that requires email is not because they see it as out-of-date. It’s because most of them do not have email addresses that they check with any level of frequency, just throw-away accounts they can use to sign up for stuff, but they never check.

Did you know that there’s an immense amount of social pressure to be “seen” with the right people online? If someone who’s not part of the “in” crowd in high school likes your Facebook status, your other friends will automatically NOT like your status unless a third person steps in and also likes the status? It’s seen as a social stigma if you and a single other undesirable person like the same status.

I’m not ashamed to say that I did not know any of that stuff until Katie told me – and I don’t understand it. I grew up liking evites and Facebook events. I grew up liking email. I grew up without social pressure online. I am different than she is. I wouldn’t know these things without a discussion because they don’t come naturally to me.

And that’s what we need: not a debate or all-out war over who understand social media better, but rather a discussion so we can education ourselves about how different age groups view social media differently.

Opening the Doors

When you write definitive and defensive posts about how your generation is better, you close the door to this discussion. Similarly, when you leave comments on said post that are patronizing, you close the door.

I think Cathryn’s post was poorly written and her argument was full of holes, yet every commenter who called her a child, claimed that she needs to grow up, or otherwise dismissed her opinions based on her age just proved her point that the older generation does not know how to effective communicate with the younger generation. We can’t respect your experience if you can’t respect our fresh point of view.

Where Cathryn ultimately fails in her piece is not in suggesting that companies need to consider hiring younger workers for social media management spots. I actually agree with her on that one to some degree. I do think that omitting younger people from this industry based on lack of professional experience is the wrong approach. Practical experience with social media should be worth as much as professional experience.

No, where I think she goes wrong is in asserting that there is nothing to be valued in professional experience at all. Being in the workplace, no matter what your job, teaches you valuable skills like team work, leadership, and organization. I know several people way past the age of 25 who do a lovely job as social media managers. What they lack in social media immersion they make up for in real-world education.

The solution is to open the doors to discussion in the world of social media. As a business owner, it’s important to hire people who “get” social media. This might translate to mean hiring a 60-year-old candidate who has been active online in a professional sense for several years and was a marketing professional for decades before that. Or it might translate to mean hiring a recent grad who has a passion for social media and understand your consumers. Better yet, it might translate to mean hiring a team comprised of people from several different backgrounds.

In any case, in the new media industry, we need to open the doors to discussion more often. Instead of talking about why we’re better and what we can teach one another, let’s talk about why we’re different and what we can learn.

Google and The Borg Have More in Common than You’d Think, At Least on YouTube

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You will join Google+. Resistance is futile. At least, if Google has anything to say about it.

Google is currently testing out a new “like” button for YouTube so users will be forced to join Google+ if they want to give videos a thumbs up rating. If you aren’t logged in, you can still watch videos, but you can’t rate them. Not everyone is seeing this button change yet (for example, I still have the old like button), but more and more people are starting to notice this change.

If you haven’t seen it already, celebrity blogger and Star Trek alum Wil Wheaton recently posted a pretty strongly-worded message to Google on Tumblr after becoming aware of the new button:

Oh, go f*** yourself, Google. This is just as bad as companies forcing me to “like” something on Facebook before I can view whatever it is they want me to “like.”

Just let me thumbs up something, without forcing me to “upgrade” to G+, you d***heads.

He elaborated upon that rant in a longer post on his blog, saying,

By crippling functionality on sites Google owns (like YouTube) and forcing users to “upgrade” to a service that they may not want or need to get that functionality back, Google is making a huge and annoying mistake.

Amen to that. Google+ is not dead, but I’m guessing the company has been disappointed with this network so far. Based on the hype when it initially launched, I think they expected it to take over Facebook and perhaps even Twitter. While Google+ isn’t a failure (yet), it also hasn’t really done those things. Super intelligent, long conversations possible on Google+, but the general public is still sticking with Facebook for now, at least for the most part. Does that mean Google+ can never succeed? No. But at the moment, they’re fighting a losing battle and making poor decisions.

Google is  like a cornered animal. Instead of being smart and coming up with a good get away plan, they’re just peeing all over in fear and charging at your face snarling, both of which are not good options.

The Google+ button on YouTube is an attempt to force people to use their network if they want to continue using a service they love (YouTube). But forcing people on the internet to do anything typically doesn’t work out very well.

Beyond that, Google isn’t seeing the big picture. Will some people break down and join Google+ if it’s necessary for YouTube liks? Maybe. But they aren’t going to use the platform in most cases. They’re just doing it because they have a gun to their back. They’re joining so YouTube is still functional. And those who don’t join Google+? They’re simply going to stop liking videos. That’s bad news for content creators, and what’s bad for the people putting videos online is bad for YouTube in general. Fewer likes = less funding for content creators = fewer videos = less traffic.

Assimilation by force never goes very well. On the other hand, if you create ingenious products and tools with the consumer in mind, people will be begging to join your ranks. Look at Pinterest. Millions upon millions of users have joined over the past few months and not one of them has been forced.

I think Neil Gaiman said it best in his reply to Wil’s post:

I wish Google would leave the Social Network thing to others. When Google does what it does, and does it well, it changes the world. When it rides bandwagons, it’s irritating.

Google has amazing abilities. Why do they have to take over every part of the Internet? Why be a jack of all trades when you already are the master of one?

I sincerely hope that Google rethinks this Google+ YouTube button. They can still put such a button there – just give us a way to like without connecting as well. I think that’s a fair compromise. But even better would be to simply leave the like button as it is currently. I’m on board with changes when they’re good, but this one just plain stinks.

What do you think of the new Google+ button on YouTube? If Google makes this change permanent, will you sign up for/log into Google+ so you can use it? Or will you just avoid rating videos from now on?

Original image (sans text) via thms.nl at Flickr’s Creative Commons.

Why SOPA Scares the You-Know-What Out of Me

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For the past few weeks, and especially over the past few days, everyone is talking about the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), new legislation in the United States that seeks to punish people for posting pirated content. I didn’t pay much attention at first. The name sounds nice, after all. I don’t support illegal downloading, and I certainly don’t want people illegally distributing the content I create. So my first impression, when I started seeing people tweeting about it, was that people were mad that they’d have to pay for things they should have been buying in the first place.

Today, I had coffee with Thursday Bram. She was in town (I live in the Washington, D.C. area) to hear Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, speak to the Young Entrepreneur Council – and he was in town first and foremost to speak out against SOPA. So I thought I better come home and actually read about the legislation, to see what the big deal was.

Holy cannoli. I almost had to change my pants. This video does a good job, in my opinion, of outlining the legislation and its problems:

[vimeo]http://www.vimeo.com/31100268[/vimeo]

Let me preface what I’m about to say with this: I’m not a lawyer and I normally don’t get super political. So if you believe I’m thinking about this the wrong way or don’t correctly understand what I’ve read about SOPA, please leave a comment telling me that. This is just how I’m interpreting things, and it is giving me an upset stomach, so I’d love to be wrong.

If passed, this legislation will scare people from sharing any link or user-created content at all because if the government (and those controlling the government though lobbyists) doesn’t like it, you can be shut down. I’m reminded of futuristic dystopian works of fiction like V for Vendetta and 1984, where government controls the message at all times. That might sound a little dramatic, but those type of imagined futures don’t happen overnight. They happen bit by bit, starting with legislation that seems like it’s meant to protect us (or so we’re led to believe). Legislation like SOPA.

Basically, what SOPA does is create a way for content creators (anyone from a large movie studio to an individual artist) to fight piracy, which is a good thing. But it also creates tons of loopholes for content creators to shut down anything they don’t like or understand that they feel infringes on their rights. We’re trusting people – people who have a lot of money at stake – to ignore these loopholes. It’s like putting a big chocolate chip cookie and some carrots in front of a three-year-old and saying, “Honey, we trust you to only eat the carrots while I’m in the other room.” Yeah right.

The loopholes in this legislation will get abused. That’s a guarantee. They’re too tempting.

And not just that, but frankly, a lot of the people in charge of the government and even businesses don’t really use the Internet. They have interns who answer their emails and support staff who update their websites. We’re putting our faith to make good decisions about our industry in the hands of people who have no clue what this industry is about. That’s terrifying.

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is supposed to protect us. Its “safe harbor” clauses give websites the chance to fix problems before being sued. Websites who make an effort to discourage copyright shenanigans don’t have to worry about getting being blacklisted. Essentially, if you try to do the right thing, you’re given the benefit of the doubt.

SOPA doesn’t give you a second chance. I’m not advocating that a piracy site should get one, but I am advocating that a social sharing site, including forums, blogs that allow comments, social media networks, bookmarking sites, and so forth be given the chance to rectify any infringement problems, rather than just being shut down because a reader/user/member/etc. posted something that a content creator doesn’t like. This is the kind of government blacklisting we’re seeing in places like China. That scares me.

Worse yet is the vast amount of gray area when it comes to infringement. SOPA will squash creativity like song mash-ups, spoofs, covers by amateurs, and more. Even stuff that is technically allowed by law could be at risk because people will be scared. Today, they’re taking down videos of someone covering a pop song. Tomorrow, they’re showing up at the small-town bar we’re you’re singing karaoke. Like I said, complete government control doesn’t happen overnight. Baby steps lead us down that path, a path where free speech is no longer allowed as we know it.

And to take things a step further…what about opinion pieces like I’m writing right now? It’s a leap, but if SOPA passes, could someone in the future read this post and categorize it as content that promotes piracy just because I disagree with an anti-piracy bill? Okay, yes, that’s quite a leap, but when writing this, I’ve been very careful to say multiple times that I don’t support piracy, just in case. Baby steps.

Let me not forget to mention how ridiculous the penalties are for someone suspected of promoting piracy in any way. A content creator can completely cut you off financially in as little as five days, which is not enough time for most people to defend themselves. You could even go to jail.

That’s right – jail. Up to five years. Because I posted a link to a YouTube video that uses background music without permission. Because that seems much more reasonable than just asking that the video be removed. Cue the black hood and handcuffs as I’m being dragged away by men in suits and sunglasses.

He's probably not a *real* pirate, right? Let's send him to jail just in case.

SOPA means that anyone who owns a website or creates any kind of online profile has to walk on eggshells. Part of the problem is that this legislation is so open to interpretation, that even if you aren’t doing anything wrong but just look like you might be doing something wrong, you could be at risk. Guilty until proven innocent is not okay in my book. There are a lot of innocent people out there who could get unjustly accused.

This legislation could even affect what you send via email, from what I understand. That requires a heck of a lot more email monitoring than I’m comfortable with. I’m not naive enough to think that something I send via email has no chance of getting read by anyone else, but I am un-paranoid-y (that’s a technical term because I can’t think of a better word) enough to think that right now, people don’t have a reason to care about my emails, so they probably don’t get read by “the man.” Under SOPA, email providers will have to care, and if you’re sending something that looks like an illegal link, the black hoods will come out again.

Up until now, I’ve been pretty outlandish with some of my what-ifs, but something that is very real and that absolutely will happen if SOPA is passed is that really cool start-ups won’t have a chance to succeed simply because they don’t have the manpower to fight lawsuits or police what users are creating to the high standards that will be legally required. Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, GOOGLE for crying out loud – these are all companies that couldn’t have happened if SOPA had passed before they were founded. People out there are wondrously creative and smart, and we’re going to miss out on a lot of really cool stuff because it will be too hard for these companies to gain any traction under SOPA. Take a moment to think of the crazy number of jobs that won’t be created. Sounds really awesome for the economy, right? Even some big-name companies might call it quits if it because too cost-intensive to comply.

A world without Twitter? I think I have to change my pants again.

And you know what? SOPA has all these bad effects WITHOUT STOPPING PIRATES. Even if every single pirate safe haven online gets shut down, people will find a way to get what they want if they don’t have the money for it. That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to stop piracy, plagiarism, and general mean-spirited mischief online. It just means what we need to do so in a way that doesn’t blanket-punish all the good kids in class because one student was talking during nap time.

Get out there and write to your congressmen and women. Blog about it. Support companies speaking out against it. Educate people who are, like me, in need of education about the topic. Let it be known, even if it passes, that you don’t agree.

My name is Allison Boyer, and while I don’t speak for the rest of the staff here at BlogWorld, personally, I don’t agree.

I think I’ve ranted long enough, so now I want to hear your opinions. Has SOPA made you soil your undergarments? What are you doing about it? What do you think would be a better answer to online piracy?

Do We Really Need Another Blog About Social Media?

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Earlier, I was talking to a friend about my job, and she mentioned that she’s really been enjoying learning about Twitter and Facebook for her job. She’s a great writer, so I asked her if she ever considered running her own blog about the topic.

“Sure,” she replied. “But it seems to me that there are already hundreds, maybe thousands of blogs out there about social media. Do we really need another one?”

Is this niche too crowded?

She’s right. It’s not just social media – it seems like the make money online/online marketing niche is getting more and more crowded every day. When I compile my Brilliant Bloggers posts, there’s never a shortage of bloggers writing about SEO or copywriting or social networking strategies or whatever the new media topic of the week may be. My feed reader is overflowing, and every day, hundreds of links about social media and other online topics pass through my Twitter stream as people work to promote their work.

And I love it – I enjoy reading interesting posts. But at the same time, one of my pet peeves is seeing new blogs pop up that are saying the same thing that could be found everywhere else. Do we really need another blogger giving us Twitter tips? Do we really need another blogger writing about how because to market your blog on Facebook? Do we really need another blogger selling another e-course or ebook or whatever about promoting your posts?

Yes. We do.

Because here’s the thing – although this is a super crowded niche, if you have a real passion for new media, I want to read what you have to say. Maybe I’ll be interested in your point of view. Maybe it won’t be for me. But you’ll find your fans, as long as that passion for the industry shines through. As long as you let yourself come through in your posts, your blog will have something special that no other blog has.

Believe me, I’d like to tell you to stop. I’d like to say that we have enough – but we don’t! Every day, I’m amazed to find intelligent bloggers who have original ideas about the same old topics. The best is when I find a gem that is so smart that I’m mad I didn’t write it myself. You don’t have to be someone who’s been blogging for five years to write such a post – in fact, often the newest bloggers have fresh opinions that throw my mind for a loop.

I hate reading thrown-together blogs that people start without much thought just because they think blogging is an easy way to make money. I hate seeing blogs that have no personality, that are filled with content that is essentially rewritten posts from other sites. But if we’re being honest, that’s not what most bloggers are about. Most bloggers love this industry and really do want to get their opinion out there.

And I want to read it.

It is undeniably harder to stand out if your niche is crowded, but for bloggers that truly are passionate, it isn’t impossible to be successful. There’s always room for one more. In my opinion, no niche will ever be so crowded that someone who is passionate about the topic shouldn’t start a blog if that’s what they really want to do. The water’s fine; come on in.

So yes, we really do need another blog about social media (or whatever your overcrowded niche of choice may be). We need you. There might be a million other blogs covering the same topic, but only your blog has you.

How to Be a Fly on the Wall: Three Ways to Find Out What Your Readers Really Think

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Given the name of this post, I wanted to have a picture of a fly. But ew, close up pictures of flies are nasty. Butterfly instead!

I think it is part of the human experience to wonder what other people think about us. For bloggers, keeping a finger on the pulse of  your readers is important if you’re trying to make money or increase your readership. If you get few comments, however, it is hard to know what people really think about you. Even if your community is vocal, its often the most violently upset or emotionally moved that comment, so you may only be seeing the extremes.

Figuring out what your readers really think about you and your blog is essential to community management, though. You can only best serve your readers if you know what they like and dislike. Here are some ways that I’ve found you can be a fly on the wall and get a bit of honest information about what your readers are thinking:

1. Set up a Google Alert for your name.

People mention other people all the time, but just because someone talks about you doesn’t mean that they link back to your site. Or, they could link to your homepage, so you don’t get the ping, but they don’t send a ton of traffic your way, so you don’t notice a spike and figure out where it’s coming from either. Google Alerts isn’t a perfect method, but it will help you see where people are mentioning you. Often, if they aren’t talking about you on your site, such as they would in the comments section of a post, they speak more freely about their thoughts about you be prepared for both positive and negative comments!

Also, avoid telling people that you found out something they said because you were googling yourself. It still sounds creepy, even if we all do it.

2. Check out what Twitter lists you’re on.

One of my favorite things to do is to see how other people have me categorized on Twitter. You’ll likely see a ton of people listing you according to your niche (such as on a list called “food bloggers” or “writers”), but you’ll be amazed with just how creative people can get with list names – and those names are telling. Are people calling you a teacher or guru or expert? That’s an awesome sign. Are people constantly listing you as something you’re not? You might be giving off the wrong impression. For example, it would be awesome to be on a list called “blogging authorities” if you blog about blogging. Not so awesome to be on that same list if you talk more about social media than you do about blogging tips. And if lots of people have you listed as someone who blogs about blogging, but your site is mainly about pets or dating or fashion or gardening or whatever? Well, perhaps you should reevaluate the links you’re sharing on Twitter and your tweets, because you might not be reaching the right audience.

As of right now, here are some of my favorite names for lists I’m on: “keepers” (D’awwwww), “too-legit-2-quit” (word.), “geeky-girls-like-me” (sad, but true), “boobbrigade” (love it), “midnight-snack” (no idea…but I’ll take it.)

3. When you comment somewhere, subscribe to follow-ups.

People are often more vocal about your opinions when it isn’t on your site, and if you don’t have a ton of traffic, leaving comments on others’ sites is a great way to get some feedback about your ideas (as long as you’re actually adding to the conversation in a relevant way, not just spamming a popular site because you want attention). But often, we leave passionate comments and forget to actually check if there were any responses! Don’t be afraid to subscribe to follow-up comments on websites if you say something passionate. Worried about getting too many emails? Bookmark the site. I keep a bookmark folder of the last ten places I left comments. When I comment somewhere new, I bump the oldest one so the list always stays manageable, and at the end of the day, I check over these posts to see if I got any responses.

Ok, those are my best three tricks for finding out what people really think of you and your blog so you can better manage your own community – what are your best tricks?

Facebook’s New Groups Feature: Is Opting In Really the Problem?

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It’s been a few days since Facebook announced their groups feature upgrades and bloggers are still buzzing about it. What I’m hearing most from people is the sentiment that your friends shouldn’t be allowed to just add you to a group willy-nilly. You should have to opt in – agree to become a part of whatever group they’re creating.

Let’s back up a second though, and first think about who this groups feature was really created to help. Says Mari Smith, Social Media Thought Leader and coauthor of Facebook Marketing: An Hour A Day:

Frankly, the New Groups have clearly been designed for Facebook’s “average” user. That is, he/she has around 130 friends and predominantly uses the platform for personal/social connecting, playing games, sharing photos, etc. I can actually see some reasonable benefits for the more personal users to connect with small groups of known Facebook friends and, of course, family.

Mari goes on to talk about why groups has caused such a hulla-baloo in the blogging world:

Those of us who have chosen to optimize our personal profiles with thousands of friends for professional networking purposes and the likes are the anomaly. However, we are the ones at the forefront of any major Facebook change like this, and we feel the brunt of suddenly being “force joined” to Groups we have little or no interest in… that dump a barrage of emails into our already crowded inbox and cram up our Facebook notifications. That is, until such time as we turn off these settings (which I always do; I only have three Facebook email notifications turned on – Page stats, email, and birthdays.)

Sure, we can adjust our notifications and we can just quietly remove ourselves from any Groups we don’t care to belong to. But, we cannot turn off the “option” to be added to Groups.

I was shocked to read on Facebook’s official announcement that we could “use Groups as a replacement for mailing lists.” A forced opt-in mailing list? I don’t think so!

But the question I have is this: Is a forced opt-in really the root of the problem with the new feature?

If you know someone and they share their contact information with you, you have the right to categorize them. Twitter already has this feature  – you can create lists for people. Granted, Twitter does not have a way for you to mass-tweet to this list, but there’s also no opt-in/out going on. People can add you to whatever list they want, so you might show up on some list called “hates-women” even if you do not, in fact, hate women.

When someone becomes your friend on Facebook, they are opting in to be contacted by you. The groups have a lot of functionality problems, which I’ll talk about in a moment, but this isn’t about opting in. If you don’t want a specific person to contact you, don’t be their friend on Facebook.

There is the argument that you want to keep in touch with someone but not be on some kind of mailing list for their business. That’s where the “remove” feature comes in handy, in my opinion. You can very well decide that you don’t want to be a part of a person’s specific group, and once you do that, you can’t be added by someone else again. It’s like if someone has your email and is sending you personal notes, business communications, and funny chain letters. You shared your contact information with that person, so you can’t be upset when they contact you. What you can do is email the person and say, “Hey Alli, your funny chain letter forwards* are clogging up my inbox and I’m not really interested in them. Can you stop sending them to me?”What Facebook does is even better – it forces the user to not email you in a specific way any longer. You’re guaranteed not to get my forwards with the Facebook system, whereas with email, I might forget and keep sending them to you anyway.

Opting in is not the problem here, in my opinion. The problems lie with how the groups function. As it stands, they’re nothing more than pages that a current member has to invite you to like. That’s…well…stupid.

Social media expert Lewis Howes has also weighed in with his opinion, which has highlighted some of the core problems with the groups feature:

To be completely honest with you, I was about to take off for a flight to Vegas yesterday and opened up Facebook and saw the new groups. I created one for sports professionals and one for social media and realized that people were active in them immediately. It wasn’t until I landed 6 hours later that even more people were commenting on them, everyone was trying to join them, and I was getting notifications like crazy from people (even some who said they removed themselves from the group because they were getting too many notifications).

I’m still in testing mode, but agree with Mari that it should be opt in/accept instead of automatically putting people in groups without them accepting that request.

Let’s note some of the things Lewis said and why this groups thing wasn’t thought through:

1. Facebook doesn’t have proper easy-to-use documentation on how to use groups, especially for Internet marketing professionals. We have to play around with the settings and see what happens. That’s just not smart. I’m sure someone will come out with an ebook that costs $97 and teaches you how to best use Facebook’s groups settings. More power to you, future ebook writer. But Facebook should have that already. When you company introduces a new feature, it should also release a report that covers the basics of working with it.

2. People get a million notifications. Maybe there’s a setting where you can turn that off, but in general, it just shouldn’t happen. You should only get a notification when the person who created the group wants to contact you. If you’re interested in a thread, there should be a box you can check, like with comments on a blog. Yes, I want to receive further notifications when someone else comments on one of my opinions. No, I do not want to receive further notifications when I say “cute picture!” and a million other people do too.

3. Correct me if I’m wrong (because again, there’s not a lot of documentation on this), but it’s set up so that a member of the group can add other people to it, right? You have to be invited to be a member of a group, but not by the person who created the group. Furthermore, you can request to be a member of a group. Lewis talked about the fact that he landed to find that a bunch of people were trying to become members. It shouldn’t work that way. A group should be for the PERSON WHO CREATED IT. It should be a way for that person to categorize his/her friends. As an Internet marketer, you likely want people to add others to the group because really, the more the merrier, but what if you’ve created a group for…I don’t like, let’s say your work friends. Then someone adds your boss. Sure, your boss works at the same place, but you created the group for your friends, not everyone in the world who could possibly be categorized that way. It should be set up more like events – you can make it public for guests to invite others, but the default is that only an administrator can add people.

Like Mari, Lewis notes that groups should be opt-in. That’s where I disagree. Facebook needs to rethink how they do notifications and how people are permitted to join a group. This whole project was just not organized in a logical way. I already have pages. I don’t want my groups to be made up of the same people so that I basically have to spam two groups when I have something to say. Facebook needs to ask themselves, “What makes groups different for pages? How will users make use of groups? How can it meet the needs of both business owners and for-pleasure users?”

For now, a few things are apparent to me:

  1. Don’t be friends with someone if you’re going to be mad when they contact you. That’s your level 1 opt-in right there.
  2. Do some notification control. Facebook doesn’t make it easy or even intuitive, but you can control the notifications you receive.
  3. Opt out of the groups you don’t want to be a part of. It only takes a second.

If opt-in was the problem, people would have been mad about Twitter lists. If opt-in was the problem, people would have been mad about someone being able to invite them to an event and for you to show up on the page as an invited guest (even if you say no). The problem is the group function itself. Opting in, in my opinion, is just the scapegoat.

Also, clearly Facebook should hire me to be quality control for features they roll out. :-p

Some more opinions on the new groups features of Facebook:

*Note: I hate funny chain forwards and don’t send them; this is just an example.

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