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7 Ways to Overcome Podcaster’s Block (Yeah, That’s a Thing)

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I have no idea what to write.

No, seriously. I came up with a couple of topics for the column this time, and discarded them. I even got about two paragraphs into one of them before realizing it was terrible. I’m sitting in a hotel room in Idaho Falls, Idaho. My family and I are here for my brother-in-law’s wedding, and I’m up here in the room trying to bash out an article. Oh, don’t worry – there’s nothing important going on right now that I’m skipping out on. This was planned downtime. So, here I am.

I’m completely stuck. I have no idea what to write.

I’ve tried my hand at being a writer; a novelist, even. In fact, I have a terrible novel sitting on my hard drive that will never, ever be published. I’ve tried being a blogger. I know what writer’s block looks like… oh, yes, yes, I do.

There are times when I sit down in my studio at home, turn on the microphone and realize I have no idea what to talk about. Some shows are easy: Geek Dads Weekly “writes” itself, and Yet Another Weight Loss Show is just a recap of my dieting efforts during the week prior. But other shows that I produce? Writer’s block is real, and it translates perfectly to podcasting (much to my dismay).

Here then, are my tips for overcoming… podcaster’s block. Yeah, that’s what I’ll call it!

  • Get a portable recorder if you don’t have one. Changing your location will change your state of mind and can open up the creativity. Record something outside, or at the local mall, or at a coffee shop. Something different.
  • Babble. Babble into the mic like an infant. Make strange, random noises. Much like simply scribbling your pen on paper can break writer’s block, making noise can stimulate your brain and get you going in the right direction.
  • Check your email. Oh, I know, this is supposedly one of those things that all the productivity gurus warn you about. Don’t check your email!!! You’ll get distracted from your task!!! Yeah, you will. And that’s not a bad thing when you’re trying to deal with a creative block. Anything you can do to make yourself think is a good thing here.
  • Walk away. I mean literally, walk away from the microphone. Go outside, walk around your house or apartment building twice. Really look around; think about what you’re looking at.
  • Have a drink. A nice glass of wine can do wonders for the creative soul. Remember though, we’re trying to podcast here, so drinking carries risks. The goal is to loosen up a little bit, not to drink enough that you slur your words and make it impossible to record a straight show. Also, if you’re podcasting for your employer, bringing wine to work is usually frowned upon unless you’re upper management, so be careful.
  • Ask for help. Call your spouse or your significant other and tell them you’re stuck. Send an email to some friends asking for topics. Writers often won’t do this because what they’re writing is still in progress – but you’re trying to rock the mic. Turn to your audience. Ask them what kinds of things they want you to talk about. They’ll tell you.
  • Do a show about how you don’t know what to talk about, then turn it into an episode listing your favorite ways to break writer’s – or podcaster’s – block.

Hey, look! I figured out what to write about!

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The Professional Amateur Podcaster

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To my mind, podcasting has matured significantly in the past few years. Production values are high. Money is being made. Big name people, companies and networks are producing shows. But… what about the individual? What about people like me, who don’t have a background in professional media like Leo Laporte or aren’t professional stand-ups like Greg Proops? Have you been to the podcast directory in iTunes lately? You’ll find podcasters that have A-list celebrities as hosts and guests, shows published by major universities on a variety of advanced topics, archives of TV and radio talk shows… and… us. The thousands of people that have produced amateur shows over the years.

For me, podcasting is where it’s at, baby. I’ve been doing it since 2008, and this is [briefly] my story, and the reason I’m here on the Blogworld blog to write, bi-weekly, about podcasting.

I’m what you might call a professional amateur podcaster. I started with one show, Geek Dads @ Home, with two partners. We went just over a year, then rebranded the show Geek Dads Weekly (with a few changes in the hosts along the way). I started my second and third shows last year, and my fourth – a Q&A show about podcasting – about a month ago. Those shows are produced under my QAQN banner. I’m a co-host on a fifth podcast, Road to Thin, as well. So, I’ve got chops. All in all, I’ve published a few hundred episodes – not exactly a world record, but nothing to sneeze at, either.

I don’t have $20,000 worth of equipment, but I use high-quality hardware. I don’t have a team of people working for me, but I’ve got co-hosts that I’ve been working with for a couple of years. I don’t have an audience numbering in the millions, but I do get emails when I miss a scheduled recording. I teach podcasting and I’ve made some money as well. Is that the definition of a professional amateur podcaster? To have good equipment, good people to work with, and a good audience with some income?

I’m looking forward to exploring the craft of podcasting with you here at the Blogworld blog. I’ll offer my experience and opinions as well as how-to’s and instructional material. Your feedback would be greatly appreciated; any feedback will help me make future posts better for you.

Why I Don’t Listen to Your Podcast

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I’m not a big podcast person. Oh, I think they’re great for blogs to have and I’ve even done podcasts in the past. I just don’t listen to them often. Why? Well, I’m working much of the time and I don’t really like having any noise while I am. I listen to podcasts occasionally when traveling, but since I have no commute, it’s rare that I actually have car time that I need to fill.

Because my podcast time is limited, I only listen to the best of the best. If I listened to one bad episode, I probably won’t be back. It sounds harsh, but my time is limited and there are a lot of interesting podcasts out there.

So what makes me stop listening to yours?

  • Too much “intro” material

It’s okay to introduce yourself and talk a little about what you do, but if you spend tons of time talking about yourself rather than the topic at hand, I’m out. It just starts to get boring. Sure, your mom might be interested to hear about your day, but there’s a line you have to draw between personality and TMI. Make sure you stay relevant to the listener.

  • Too many ads

We all gotta pay the bills. I understand that, my friend, but do we really need a 10-minute commercial break? If you have to fill tons of time with ads, that might be an indication that you’re not charging enough for the slots. Increase your prices, have fewer ads, and stop driving your listeners away.

  • No structure

I’m not a fan of conversational podcasts that have absolutely no structure. I don’t think you need a rigid schedule to follow, but if you have no direction, there’s often a lot of boring crap that’s irrelevant to the listener. Before you start each episode, make sure that you and your fellow podcasters have a run-down of the information you want to cover on the show – and make sure that you (or a co-host) takes a leadership position to keep everyone on point.

  • A face for radio

People often joke around, saying that someone has a “face for radio” (i.e., they’re ugly), but sometimes I think that phrase is relevant when listening to someone. Although you might be looking at something on your computer, it’s not good to include anything visual, even if you do give your readers the link in a show note. If you do, make sure you describe what you’re seeing really, really well. Not everyone has the ability to click a link or type in a URL while listening, since people listen when driving, jogging, etc.

So, those are my biggest four podcast pet peeves – boring intro info, too many ads, lack of structure and relying on visuals during the show. What makes you groan most when you listen to a podcast? What are your favorite podcasts (other than your own)?

Srinivas Rao Talks About Podcasting for Bloggers

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Srini Rao and I didn’t cross paths at BlogWorld 2010, but after the event, we found ourselves connecting on Twitter, since we had mutual friends. Along with Sid Savara, Srini runs BlogcastFM, which is a great site for new and experienced bloggers alike, since he posts podcast interviews with awesome people who are willing to share their blogging secrets to success. Srini was nice enough to let me pick his brain a little about podcasting, so if you’re thinking about adding a podcast to your blog, check out what he had to say:

Allison: How did you get started as a blogger?

Srini: Like most great things in life it was a fortunate accident. However, the story goes quite far back. In 2000 when I graduated from a college a friend of mine created a newsletter where people would send in contributions about what they were doing during the summer. I had a column called “summer of Srini” that actually became quite popular among my small group of friends. So that was really the start of it long before blogging even existed. In April 2009, I graduated from business schoool and couldn’t find a job. So I joined Yaro Starak’s Blog Mastermind program in the hopes that starting a blog would help me find a job and give me a project to keep from going nuts while I was unemployed.

What made you move from writing a blog to running a podcast about blogging? How did that evolve into a membership site?

This was yet another fortunate accident. One of the lessons in the Blog Mastermind program was to interview people. So I started a weekly series called interviews with up and coming bloggers. Roughly 13 weeks into the series one the guys I interviewed, Sid Savara actually pitched me on the idea of taking the podcast and putting it on a separate site where all we did was interview people. As far as the membership site goes, we pack our interviews with TONS of information, almost too much. We wanted to provide people with another way to digest the information, that made it easier to take action, especially when they might not always have time to listen to a 45 minute interview. People had been asking us for transcripts of the interviews, but that would more or less be the same thing our podcasts have just on paper, and we wanted to cut all the fluff. The membership site is still evolving and we’ve been doing a weekly u-stream chat and live webinar for the BlogcastFM community.

How do you find guests for your podcast?

In the beginning it was basically leveraging the relationships we had. Fortunately Sid Savara (my blogcastfm partner) was more established than I was and he had relationships with some well known bloggers. But that wasn’t the only way we found people. We looked the blogs we read. I look for two things in a guest: an interesting story and something they can teach our audience. For example, I interviewed Shannon and Kristin, from All of us Revolution. They were only a month old when I interviewed them, but I liked their story and I thought they could teach our audience something. Today, we actually are in an interesting position in that we actually get contacted at least a few times a week by people who are interested in being guests or have been long time listeners. But I am always on the look out for interesting guests. I also will occasionally put out a tweet asking for recommendations from people. I love it when a long time listener has become successful enough to become a guest and I’d like to think we played a role in that process.

What kind of prep work do you do before your interviews? Do you think it’s easier or harder to prepare for your podcast because it’s in interview format rather than talk show format?

This is an interesting one because it will probably shock some people. I’ve done this so many times at this point I can almost do it in my sleep. There are times when I have about 5 minutes to look at a person’s story and that’s it. That being said, I do take a look at the guests blog, try to find out what their most noteworthy accomplishments are, and read a few of their posts. I think the interview format actually makes it easier because I know what I need to ask in almost every interview and even though I have a structure it’s really loose and allows for things to flow.

Do you have any advice for bloggers who feel too shy to podcast?

This is a tough one. I wish I could say that they should just start. But there are some people who won’t naturally be good at things like this and I don’t recommend forcing square pegs into round holes. On the flip side of that, if it’s just nerves, then it’s about just taking the plunge. There’s no way you’re going to be perfect the first 50 times you do it. After 130 interviews, I’m always looking for ways to to improve. Sometimes I’m blown away by what I can get out of a guest and others I’m amazed that it doesn’t go as I’d like it to. One thing that helps is finding somebody to record it with.

What are some of the biggest mistakes you see (or hear) other podcasters making?

As I mentioned above, listening is key. Another thing I would say is finding a subject matter that works. If you’re starting a podcast just for the sake of having a podcast and you’re not saying anything useful, that doesn’t help you or your audience. One thing that drives me nuts is when people treat interviews like interrogations. I tend to be fairly critical of interviews as you can imagine. If your goal is just to get through a list of questions, it just kills the flow of conversation. In order to make your podcast useful and entertaining the key is to let the conversation flow.

Is podcasting something all bloggers should be doing? How should bloggers decide whether or not to podcast?

I don’t think it’s something all blogggers should be doing. You really need to understand your audience and whether or not a podcast is right for them. Yes a podcast can do wonders for your personal brand, but if you’re awful at it, it’s going to actually hurt your brand. As far as deciding whether or not they should podcast, I think they need to figure out if they’ve got enough material to keep an audience’s attention for at least 30 minutes a week. Having material is really key.

For bloggers who are starting a new podcast, what’s the single best piece of advice you can give them?

I’d say to have fun with it. Podcasting is a blast for me because I get to talk to so many interesting people. It’s probably one of the greatest relationship building tools in my personal arsenal. I’ve made some amazing friends, found people to collaborate with and learned an absolutely insane amount of blogging knowledge because of having a podcast. People shouldn’t sweat the results of their podcast as much as they should on providing value to their audience. Once you start focusing on the creation of value really amazing things will start to happen.

Thanks for your great advice, Srini! Readers, make sure to check him out at The Skool of Life and BlogcastFM

Dave Hamilton and Jean MacDonald Talk About Podcast Sponsorship

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Dave Hamilton and Jean MacDonald as a team for a panel about podcasting is genius, simply because Dave sells ads and Jean buys them. So, attendees got to see the business of podcasting from both sides. I’ve dabbled in podcast with my blog Binge Gamer, but never really thought about monetizing it in any way. For me, this panel was an eye-opener.

Like with all the sessions I’ve been covering while at BlogWorld, there was so much packed into this hour that I can’t possibly convey it all here to you. I highly recommend picking up a virtual ticket to BlogWorld to see the entire discussion. One thing I did want to touch on here that Dave and Jean covered is finding the right sponsor, since this applies to blogs just as it applies to podcasts. It boils down to one rule of thumb:

Do what is right for your listeners (or readers).

Think about the topics you cover. What products or services would you naturally talk about on the show, even if you weren’t being paid for it. Think about your medium. Some things are just better to promote with visuals, while other things are better to promote with a vocal blurb. Think about what your listeners need. Give it to them. This is as important with sponsors as it is with your podcast (or blog) content.

Once you’ve found the right sponsors, getting them to consider your sponsorship package is a lot easier. Identify the sponsors you want and half the battle is already won!

Evergreen vs. Expirable Content: Make them Come Back

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BlogWorld 2010 Speaker: Jeffrey Powers
Evergreen vs. Expirable Content: Make them Come Back
Friday October 15, 2010
2:45PM – 3:45PM

@ Tradewinds E&F 7

As a podcaster, I notice a lot of shows I listen to or watch has a clock ticking. The second it’s done it needs to get out the door. News grows stale and within a week, the show will have expired.

Evergreen content is different. It becomes as important 3 months, 1 year or longer as it was the day you created it. When you see your stats on the website, these items will pop up from time to time. Some of them go viral and you get some pretty good traffic because of it.

Jeffrey Powers from Geekazine and Mignon Fogerty of Grammar Girl – Quick and Dirty Tips go through what is Evergreen, what is expirable and even give you some ideas as to how you can use your content to the best of your ability.

Mignon has some great insight on how to re-use content and why scripting is important. Jeffrey will talk about some cool opportunities coming up, including the upcoming HTML5 standard, to put your shows out. Together, they will give you an insight on how to make content people will come for – whether today or 5 years from now.

One thing you might even want to think about: taking your existing content and re-using it for a whole new episode. Jeff will talk more about that at the
session.

Expert Panel Critiques Podcasts at BlogWorld

Author:

Did you ever ask people to rate or comment on your show and all you get in return is “Great job!”? I see that all the time and thought, wouldn’t it be nice to have someone like Simon Cowell to really tell you what is right or wrong with your show.

That is the idea behind the session “Critique a Podcast” at BlogWorld & New Media Expo. The best part – We can choose a group of four people that critique different areas of your show!

The Panel:

  • Steve Garfield – Steve has been videoblogging ever since videoblogging was a term. He has spoken about creating content to many panels and is also hosting the session: Video Podcasting 101.
  • Mignon Fogerty – Otherwise known as the “Grammar Girl”, Mignon created the Quick and Dirty Tips Network, which hosts multiple how-to shows including her own.
  • Rob Greenlee – Rob is a podcaster, but also has been working for Zune keeping the Zune media player up to date.
  • Mike Cioffi – Mike is the producer of the Adam Corolla podcast and the Digital Media Manager at Jimmy Kimmel Live. Mike also is a Podcaster at Low Budget FM.
  • MC: Jeffrey Powers – Jeffrey is a Podcaster and Videocaster in the Wisconsin area.

The Shows:

  • The iPad Show – a Weekly Podcast talking about the mobile device: iPad
  • Backroom Comics Podcast – The show talks comics. From a shop in Seattle, WA, the cast of 5 discuss what is going on in the comic book industry.
  • Beernauts – Are you a beerinado – then Beernauts might be for you. The cast of 3 checks out the latest beers out there.
  • Almost Friday Show – It’s a show about.. Geek. Well, being geek. A cast of 5 members talking everything from sci-fi and fantasy to tech reviews and news.

Can’t make it to BlogWorld? You can watch the discussion with a Virtual Ticket, and try this at home …

Here is a quick checklist to ask yourself about your show: 

  • How does your show sound?
  • How does your show look (for video)
  • Would you sit down and listen to (watch) your own show?
  • Is your intro too long (short)
  • Count the “UMMM” game (how many times you say Umm in the show)
  • Are you prepared for your show? 

    

Finding Podcast Sponsors: What NOT to Do

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BlogWorld 2010 Speaker: Jean MacDonald
Getting Sponsors For Your Podcast: The Nuts and Bolts

Friday, October 15, 2010
12:15PM – 1:15PM

Tradewinds D/8

Podcasting is one of the fastest-growing formats of communication in the 21st century. Listeners love podcasts because podcasts are focused on their interests and, usually, cost-free.

But it’s not cost-free to produce a podcast, even a modest one. Equipment and bandwidth cost money, not to mention the time spent recording and producing a quality podcast. Many podcasters seek out sponsors to help defray costs, perhaps with the goal of turning a hobby into a profitable business.

Together with Dave Hamilton of BackBeat Media and The Mac Observer, I’ll be presenting a session on how to get sponsors for your podcast. Dave is a podcaster himself, the host of the popular Mac Geek Gab, while I am a partner in Smile, a Mac software company and the sponsor of several podcasts. If you have been thinking about approaching sponsors, or have been approached by sponsors but aren’t sure how to respond, we have a bunch of practical tips for success.

We’ll be talking about what you SHOULD do as you try to find sponsors and get them to sign on with you. But as a quick session preview, here are 3 things you SHOULD NOT do.

Obvious Form Letter

Podcasting is a niche medium. Sponsorships work best when there is a clear affinity between the podcast and the potential sponsor. A form email will not impress a sponsor looking for a unique audience.

If you’ve used a potential sponsor’s products, say so. Give some details. What if you haven’t used a potential sponsor’s products? Well, that could be a sign that this particular company is not a good fit for you and your audience.

Complicated (and Possibly Irrelevant) Offers

When you first contact a potential sponsor, you want to persuade them to listen to your podcast. Make a compelling case for why they will be interested in the podcast itself. Don’t tack on a lot of ancillary offer information. If an advertising manager isn’t sold on your podcast, they won’t care about the various types of banner advertising they will get on their site.

If you produce more than one podcast, don’t try to sell a sponsor a package if the podcasts are unrelated. Unless you know for a fact that the sponsor is passionate about tarot reading AND iPad apps, for example, you will give the impression that you haven’t researched your potential sponsors’ target audience.

Big Media Kit Attachments

Before you send a media kit, you need to have some indication that the company is interested. Media kits are big files. No one likes to get big files that they are just going to trash. Especially in the age of mobile computing, don’t become known as the person who sends out unsolicited 10 MB .zip files.

Instead, boil down the facts of your podcast to a few bullet points that you can add to your email signature.

Jean MacDonald is the partner in charge of marketing at Smile, which develops Mac, iPhone and iPad productivity software such as TextExpander and PDFpen. Under her direction, Smile has developed a large portfolio of podcast sponsorships.

Blog: http://blog.smilesoftware.com
Twitter: @macgenie

Image Source: iStockPhoto

How to Make the Most of a Saturated Niche

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A saturated niche can put a real damper on the best-laid blog or podcast plans. If you know a lot about a particular topic, it’s really cool if that topic is popular. You can find hundreds of thousands of people from different nations who are all excited about about the same thing. Sing with me; it’s a small world after all, it’s a small world after all…

It’s a blogosphere of laughter, a blogosphere of tears…

The problem? If the niche is so popular offline, you likely aren’t the first person to write about it online. Popular topics like celebrity news, video games, making money online, and parenting are covered by hundreds of bloggers, and each site has worked hard to build up a following. As someone new in a niche that’s already more crowded than this train in India, how can you attract readers?

It isn’t Us vs. Them

Number one, this isn’t a gosh darn cage fight. The fact that there are other bloggers in your niche is a good thing, because you can share readers. No two bloggers will ever say the same thing or have the same blog content, even if you’re running extremely similar websites. So put away your nunchucks. You don’t have to take out other bloggers in order to be successful.When MMO* bloggers talk about “ninja” tactics, this is not what they mean.

Show your appreciation for their work. Become a member of their community by leaving productive comments and link back to relevant posts on their blog when you’re writing about similar topics on your own site. If you’re a podcaster, call in to others’ shows or mention them on your own podcast. Attend conferences to meet others in your niche. Guest post. You get the idea.

Be a Personality

Yesterday, I wrote about building your blogging brand. This is especially important if you’re coming into a niche that is extremely saturated. You want to be memorable, so that when people come to your site, they get a good sense of who you are. Be consistent, letting your personality shine through as much as possible. Remember, people aren’t loyal to blogs and podcasts because they like the information. People are loyal to blogs/podcasts because they like the information from you.

Put a Spin on Your Topic

Most successful content creators out there have one of two things going for them: they’re the “first” in their niche or they put a really different kind of spin on the same old topic. If you’re coming into a niche that’s already filled with bloggers and podcasters, you can’t be a first…but you can be original.

A great example of this? Men with Pens. It seems like every writer in the world has his/her own blog about writing, so the Men with Pens dudes (I say “dudes” liberally here) did something different. And they’re pretty successful where others have failed.

Try to think about your topic in a new way. What can readers/listeners get from you that they can’t get other places? It could you your writing style. It could be the way you approach a topic. Ideally, it’s both. Your branding definitely comes into play, but it goes beyond your personality. Focus not just on your niche, but the unique “oomph” that you bring to that niche.

Keep on Truckin’

The last piece of advice I want to dish out is this: no matter how full or empty your niche is, you can’t expect overnight success. Even popular content creators who are just starting out know that numbers are going to be down for the first few months. Keep on truckin’. I know one blogger who gave up after less than a month because she was frustrated with low traffic numbers. Building an audience takes time. Even if your niche is as saturated as Steve Ballmer’s shirt, you can build a following if you’re a consistently good at what you do – just give it some time. If people are interested in your niche, they’ll find you. After all, it’s time we’re aware, it’s a small world after all.

*MMO = Make Money Online, but every time I see it, I still think “massively multiplayer online” in relationship to video games like World of Warcraft and Everquest. Yes, that is how big of a geek I am.

Image Credit: Kirsten5400

Tag You’re It! – Why Tagging Your Content Is Important

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Tag You're It

If I have said it once I have said it a thousand times, “We live in a Google world.”  It is true, we don’t order Chinese food, find directions to the store, or stalk old girlfriends without using Google.  Being findable in this world is important if you are trying to be found.  Businesses especially must pay attention to how their customers can find them.  Keywords and key phrases are how that is accomplished through the use of meta tags or just tags.

Tags are a keyword associated with content attached to it.  If you want people to read your latest blog post on how to wash a cat, you have to determine how they would look for that content and attach that key word or phrase to it.

The same rule applies to your content as a publisher whether it be a blog, a podcast, video or even your photos.  We often put pictures into our posts that we find which we feel are relevant to our content, the title or completely off the wall for that matter.  We find those pictures at places like flickr, istockphoto, and yes, Google image search.  We enter a keyword into the search function of those sites to find a picture for the content.

In addition to being searchable or findable, it also has the effect of increasing traffic to your content and makes the content watched, seen and readable.  One of the things that I do on a regular basis is to search out and find anyone that mentions BlogWorld & New Media Expo.  You can imagine all the different variations of that and the number of tags used to describe our event.  This is also why we like people that use a common tag.  The most used tag last year was of course “BWE09” and this year we are urging everyone to use “BWE10”.  This allows us a quick reference to your blog post, your picture on your photo sharing site, your podcast and your YouTube (owned of course by Google) or other videos. A YouTube search with “blog world” returns 234,000 results.  We all know it may be difficult for me to look at that many videos.  Using a tag like BWE10 focuses the searcher into your content. A similar search with BWE09 allows me the benefit of watching less that 150 videos.

If your content is well done and is something we need to share with our community, we find and share it.  This in turn increases the readers, listeners, or viewers of your content.  We are still pouring over the content generated as a result of the 2009 event in October, I am finding new content daily and still trying to read all of it.  As we grow and get bigger and have more content generated it is going to be tougher to find your content and thereby making it even more important for you to tag appropriately.

For the upcoming show in 2010 we are asking everyone to tag your content “BWE10”  If you Tweet that hashtag, put that in your post, attach it to your videos, photos and podcasts, I’ll be there to say hello.  If it is something that needs to be shared with the thousands of people in our community, we’ll do so and increase your traffic and readership.  If I miss something because I couldn’t find it, your content may never get discovered and broadcast further.  We are listening and we are paying attention to what is being said. Tag your content!

Photo Via SD_Kirk

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