Archive | March, 2011

Podcamp Nashville: Becoming a Thought Leader Via Podcast

Let me begin by saying I’m embarrassed that I don’t have a podcast. I registered a URL I intended to use to promote our podcast nearly a year ago. Summer Huggins did a lot of great prep work for it. I even talked to someone about being our first interviewee. And I haven’t executed yet.

I’m OK with confessing that to you, because I don’t think it’s an ongoing issue I have, failure to execute. I recently read Seth Godin’s Poke the Box, after several friends urged me to go back to him [that's a longer story]. This book is a treatise on getting off your duff and making stuff happen. It’s wonderful — because I happen to be someone who likes to start yesterday. I figure you don’t know what you’re going to get til you try it, so you should get started right away.

But on the podcast front, I haven’t pulled the trigger yet. Now, I have renewed my inspiration.

You might think from the name “Podcamp” that last weekend’s Nashville conference was all about podcasting, but it covers many topics related to digital media. However, podcasting does get more than a passing nod at Podcamp. I went to a great session moderated by Cliff Ravenscraft, a guy who makes podcasting feel accessible to anyone.

Ravenscraft moderated a panel of people who, until 1-3 years ago, didn’t have a large digital footprint. But now, they’re all successful podcasters, reaching decent-sized audiences and dramatically upping their business impact. Given their examples, I can’t figure out any reasonable excuses not to get our podcast off the ground. So watch for more on that soon!

In the meantime, I’d like to share some of the great insights from the podcast panel:

Dan Miller: Life coach and author, host of 48Days. [48 Days to the Work You Love]

David and Paula Foster: 5 podcasts between them. They host Making Marriage Fun Again together. They started this podcast to help people who need support in making their marriage work.

Sheila Tidwell and Connie Williams, hosts of Connie and Sheila Talk: Real Life, Real Estate, Real Fun. They met Ravenscraft last year at Podcamp and started their podcast immediately afterward.

All quotes are paraphrases.

Podcasts to instill trust

Miller: Podcasting has an incredible degree of transparency. I’ve been coaching, teaching for a long time and have communicated in a variety of ways. I’ve never experienced this same level of connection with other media though. It forces me to be authentic.

David Foster: Great podcasts are about discovery. I’m on the journey — I’m not a guru delivering it down from the throne.

Connecting with your audience

Tidwell: We don’t edit out a lot of things. Even dogs barking, etc.

Paula Foster: Reading a script isn’t real. [You can plan -- you should plan -- but talk from the heart.]

David Foster: Trust your voice. You have something to say, and it will be compelling when you say it in your voice.

Benefits for the podcaster

Paula Foster: A podcast can help you keep your story alive. Telling the story will help you think of things in different ways.

Williams: Podcasting is a great exercise in thinking, no matter what your passion or topic is.

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PodCamp Nashville: Winston Hearn on Basic Video Production

Winston Hearn has been creating online video for several years and offered a basic tutorial Saturday at PodCamp Nashville 2011. Though I’ve done online video for a while, I’ve never really had any formal instruction, so I thought it would be nice to find out what I’m doing wrong.

It was a great session on the basics — and very little is about equipment, which is what most beginners get obsessed with. My notes are below. You should assume that the wording is all my paraphrasing, but some quotes are pretty close.

Winston Hearn’s tips for creating online video:

Just a quick note on terminology: You can’t make a “viral video.” [Loved this. Big pet peeve of mine, too.] Viral is something that happens after your video is online if people like it.

Five steps to online video

  • Write
  • Shoot
  • Edit
  • Upload
  • Disperse

You can’t skip the write step. People don’t plan and it leads to a lot of bad video.

How do you write for video?

  • Think visually. People are watching, not just listening.
  • Think short. Shorter videos get more watches. 2 minutes is a maximum timeline for your average online video.
  • Think about bullet points — what are the compelling messages you want to share?
  • Distill. Cut your story to the minimum points necessary.
  • Plan ahead. Once you’ve written, figure out how you’re going to show the story.

Shooting

  • Test your ideas.
  • Lighting is critical. If you don’t have gear, no worries, but think hard about where to shoot. Avoid fluorescent lights. Cloudy days are perfect for outdoor filming.
  • Audio is your best ingredient. Poor audio quality will turn people off quickly. Here’s where Flips suffer — only good for close-by audio.
  • Make it pretty. Think about your framing. Check the background. Make sure subject stands out from the background. Don’t have distracting background. Only have one camera? Do takes from multiple angles, edit it together.

Hearn says you should start with the tools you have: Flip cameras can do a lot of stuff. The main thing is to understand your tools and know what they’re capable of.

Editing

  • Hearn uses Final Cut. He’s planning to add a blog post later today with more info on tools, and I’ll link to it when I see it. Hearn’s post gives you lots of links and ideas for video tools. There are a number of tools that work well that are less expensive, though.
  • First create a rough cut: Put everything in order according to your script, see what you have.
  • If you’re using music: Check music rights. There are lots of sources for inexpensive royalty free clips. Music can really make a difference in your video.
  • Don’t make a talking-head only video. Think of creative ways to show your story. Whiteboards etc.
  • Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut. Make it shorter!

Upload

Check out YouTube and Vimeo.

  • Vimeo – Hearn likes the tools, quality better.
  • YouTube – Everyone uses this.
  • Use both for many videos. Investigate the settings on each site — there are differences and how you format your export matters.

Disperse

What you name and tag your video really matter if you want it to spread.

This is where your social media plan takes over. Start thinking about your marketing strategy way back when you’re writing.[The content strategist in me was happy to hear this pitch for planning.]

Photo credit from home page: Amie Simmons

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A grammar nerd learns to program

A week ago, I started a computer class to learn Ruby on Rails to build web applications. I’m not currently planning any kind of startup, or even to become a programmer. I did think it would be really helpful to learn programming from the ground up, to learn the theory as well as the practice.

When I was 11 or 12, we got a personal computer at home. This was in the early 1980s. I taught myself BASIC with some book that came with the computer. I don’t even remember what I built with it, but I remember I spent a whole lot of time learning it, and I’ve never used it since.

In the mid-1990s, I got the chance to learn HTML and then later, CSS. And at the time, that was enough to make me really geeky to most of my friends. In the past 10 years or so, I’ve hacked around in PHP, Perl and Java, taking existing websites and making them do what I needed them to do. I’ve had different people to guide me, but I’ve never had any sort of real training. Lots and lots of trial and error. I couldn’t write a one of those languages from scratch, but I can usually figure out how to bend them to my will.

Ruby and the Rails framework are known for their use in web 2.0 applications. And here, “web 2.0″ means “trendy” and “slick-looking.” That’s the brand promise you’re buying with RoR. And while that’s nice, what I really loved was learning the secret code. Because that’s what programming is — it’s like a spy game you played when you were kids. This means that. I want you to do something, so I tell you something else that we agreed on ahead of time. It’s such a secret and so much fun. Honestly, anytime you can throw a metaphor or a representation at me, I’m a happy girl. Programming is all about metaphor and structure.

Well, instead of writing this blog post, I really ought to be working on my homework. But if you ever get the chance, I can already recommend Jeff Casimir and Jumpstart Lab. Jeff’s a great teacher and easy to work with. I can’t wait for my next class!

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Deserving your audience

Great post this week from well known author Mitch Joel, president of Twist Image in Toronto. He starts from the question of whether it’s better to have a great book or a great existing audience when you publish. But he morphs quickly into asking the same question about marketers using social media or other content marketing channels.

The content needs to stand up on its own.

This is an important lesson for Marketers who are quickly realizing that their jobs in a Social Media world force them to act a lot more like publishers and content creators than the traditional advertising roles they are more accustomed to. In order to generate significant levels of success, their content can’t be thinly veiled marketing pieces, but must live and breathe with authenticity and value within the ecosystem.

–Get the rest from Mitch Joel at 6 Pixels of Separation

It’s a question that many marketers haven’t stopped to ask. If you’re not offering value to the market, you are wasting our time  at best. And it’s a very rare situation where your standard marketing materials are what people want from you.

What people do want [for starters]:

  • Instructions
  • Tech support
  • Information they can’t get elsewhere
  • Ideas about making their own jobs easier
  • Entertainment

Every company can’t fill all those needs, but you don’t have to. If your product is serious, you don’t have to be funny. But no matter your market, it almost always helps to be human. This is another area that doesn’t come naturally to companies. It comes naturally to most people, but you put a corporate face on and throw some technology between yourself and your customers, and many of us freeze up.

What’s your best tip for treating your audience well with content?

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AP Steps Into the 2000s: Email Loses the Hyphen

Ah, the Associated Press. Bless their hearts. Long the whipping boy of web business types [and deservedly so, for a years-long series of tone-deaf and business-stupid moves online], the AP has nonetheless retained its position as the stylebook of business and media.

Quick background: Stylebooks are used by both business and media communicators to settle questions of how you spell things, what to capitalize, how to handle URLS or emails in copy — in short, anything that you might have a difference of opinion on. When you’re communicating for a living, you need to make a decision about how to handle these questions of opinion and then stick with your answer throughout your communications. It makes you look more professional and ends time-wasting arguments about when you capitalize titles.

In my two decades of communications experience, I’ve never seen anything get people angrier than hyphens. I have no idea why this small line is so infuriating, but believe me, this is far worse than the Oxford comma.

Hyphens typically crop up in a couple of places: To string together two-word adjectives [just like that -- meta!] or when you’re sticking together two words to make them one [like cross-country]. I tend to be an over-hyphenater [to be generous to you under-hyphenaters out there], mostly because I like concrete rules. When you hyphenate less, there are usually still some things you’re going to hyphenate, and I find some hyphenation far more confusing than lots.

And for years, the Associated Press has kept the hyphen in the word e-mail — I guess because it’s a shortening of the now-ancient-sounding phrase electronic mail. As early as the mid-1990s, online style guides recommended spelling the word as email, but AP [and as a consequence, lots and lots of journalists] has lagged behind. But last week, AP finally decreed that the proper spelling is email.

Most organizations that officially declare style use some combination of a recognized manual like AP and their own rules, so many organizations have been spelling it email for years now; the AP’s decision last week simply follows current usage, instead of defining current usage, as it often does.

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QR Codes: Ready for Prime Time?

Great post from Paul Merrill on QR codes:

It’s as if each company said, “We need to get something out there with a QR code on it – and it doesn’t matter what it says or links to. Just get it out now, now. We only have two weeks till the event kicks off!”
Fail.

– From Paul Merrill. Get the rest at Shiny Bits of Life

QR codes [stands for Quick Response codes, but you'll never hear them referred to by the full words] are getting hot with marketers. Merrill’s right; they were everywhere at South by Southwest last week, but I’ve also seen them in print magazines and on ads in the subway in New York.

The idea behind QR codes is solid: You see an ad [or an article, or a product package, whatever] with a QR code, and you whip out your ubiquitous smartphone, scan the code and get delivered to a website where additional, fabulous information awaits you.

It’s the fabulous part we’re struggling with right now.

This is fundamentally a user experience problem. Marketers haven’t yet sorted out what is best delivered via your phone, or your computer or a printed ad. So right now, they’re throwing it all at you, every which way they can. Given some time and excellent examples, this kind of thing will sort itself out. The only potential problem is, if we become inured to poor QR code usage in the meantime, it will take a lot of work to get people to start scanning them again.

So marketers of the world, please be careful with your QR codes. Stop using them when you can’t be fabulous.

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Google Search Updates: Good or bad?

Read a great post this morning from InfoCommerce, a consulting group that focuses on business information content and database publishing. Here’s a snippet, but I think you should head over to their blog for the whole post on Google’s recent spam-prevention search updates.

…let’s think a little more about this new filtering capability offered by Google. What if it were to truly catch on? The basic concept is that you can now easily and permanently take out any domain from your Google search results. Consider what this means: suddenly, nobody is seeing the same search results. What is the implication for search engine optimization programs and providers? What happens to search engine marketing?

more at the InfoCommerce blog

Of course, the clear message from Google, Bing and other major search engines is that already, no one gets the same search results. [Despite that, some SEO firms are still trying to sell you rankings. Snake oil alert!] But the greater ability to customize your own results on the fly means that not only will you not see what I see, but that we may accidentally be giving ourselves poorer results.

Personally, I’m not sorry to see Google act on the content farm spam problem. I’ve noticed it a lot in my personal searching, as I have tried to teach my 5-year-old and my 11-year-old how you judge a quality website to use in research for school projects. To an untrained researcher, lots of content farm posts look really useful — but they usually just give you half an answer or even the wrong information.

But the implications of fiddling with the mechanism, and of allowing us to fiddle with it, also concern me. Will we start to see campaigns to have people “vote down” certain sites out of malice, hoping to get Google to dump them? I suspect that Google will figure out when humans need to intervene in those kind of cases, but Google’s got a track record in other areas of letting the machines act first and then let the humans correct when necessary — with no regard to the downstream consequences. So I hope that Google is treading very, very carefully here.

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SXSW Wrapup: Reflections on the Chaos

Now you’re starting to see the South by Southwest wrapup posts appear, and I’ve already seen one post slamming the festival for becoming too big [It's a real rant on the NY Observer if you want to Google it, but not worth the link in my opinion] and one defending the new SXSW status quo.

I’ll just say this: I’ve been to SXSW 5 of the last 7 years, and though it’s changed dramatically in that time, it remains one of the best places to catch up on everything related to the web. This year, with sessions spread all over downtown Austin, I walked nearly 10 miles in the two days I was in town. There was a shuttle service — too pricey when the weather was nice and cabs are cheap — but I found there was time to walk, so why not?

I blogged all the sessions I attended. Some are directly related to work I’m doing right now, and some are just topics I’m interested in. All my posts on SXSW are raw notes, so don’t expect polished journalism.

Will I go back? Most definitely. I always learn something new there and meet interesting people. I will be surprised if we don’t see big tweaks to the calendar and the session layout, but either way, I’m in. The excitement about the digital industry is palpable there, and it’s hard to find someone who’s not interested in learning more or hearing about new ideas. That kind of energy recharges me for a lot of hard work to come.

The sessions I blogged:
Todd Park from HHS on the Power of Open Health Data
Recommendation Engines: Going Beyond the Social Graph
Margot Bloomstein on Creation, Curation and the Ethics of Content Strategy
Tim Wu on Net Neutrality
Gary Vaynerchuk and The Thank You Economy
Dawn Foster on Hacking RSS

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Solving the iPad2 – MacBook Air question

[poll id="2"]

OK, y’all. I’ve read tons of things in the past couple of days about the iPad2 and the MacBook Air, and I still can’t make up my mind. So I need your help. Please vote for how I should resolve my tech dilemma and add a comment if you have some insight for me!

Here’s my situation:
I work out of a home office, but I spend a lot of my time in my clients’ offices. I also travel out of town from time to time, and that’s going to increase this year. I need Internet access when I’m on the go, but I hate schlepping a lot of stuff around. My neck is ready to kill me. So I can’t keep hauling around my MacBook Pro.

Here are my technical requirements and considerations:

  • I do a lot of writing. I use Microsoft Office and sometimes Pages and Numbers.
  • I use Excel and OmniGraffle a lot for information architecture and taxonomy planning.
  • I use TextMate a fair amount.
  • I use DropBox daily to manage my files.
  • I use some web-based apps like Basecamp, manage my blog, etc.
  • I have a Sprint Overdrive which I like OK but isn’t cheap.

Here are the options I’m considering:

  • I have a 2-year-old MacBook Pro. I might upgrade it this year, or I might wait til next year. I’m not unhappy with it.
  • I’m considering the iPad2 with a wireless keyboard, and keeping the MB Pro for at home. My concerns: It’s not quite the same as a computer. How fast will it be? Could I get rid of the Overdrive if I got a 3G plan? Would that be stupid? Should I get a wireless iPad and keep the Overdrive? Can I really use it as a laptop on a 2-3 day trip?
  • I’m considering the MacBook Air. Concerns: Can I replace my computer with it? [I'm thinking no.] I’d still have to keep the Overdrive. Will it be confusing to have two computers if I have Dropbox? Or just unnecessary? How does the power of the MB Pro compare to the Air?
  • I’m glad to consider your favorite option too.

As you can see, I’m nowhere close to making a decision. Please help!

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SXSW: Dawn Foster on Hacking RSS

So I’m at Hacking RSS by Dawn Foster. She’s got some more stats about how much data we have in the world. Seems to be a big topic this year here at SXSW. [Incidentally she's got some stats on her slides if you'd like to look. I didn't scribble down the numbers.]

We’re talking about how to manage your RSS feeds. We subscribe to feeds that we mostly like, but everything in them may not be interesting. And it’s hard to keep up. And there are lots of feeds out there that we don’t subscribe to.

Some tips:

  • Spend the time to categorize.
  • Stuff you really care about at the top.
  • Don’t try to read everything.

How do you find sources you wouldn’t run across?
The Tweeted Times. Takes links from people you follow, and people they follow, and displays in a newspaper format with most-tweeted stuff at the top. Great way to catch up on Twitter.
Techmeme. Good way to get a global sense of what’s popular.

Foster says the magic is in filtering. Sets up Yahoo! Pipes to filter feeds on keywords she cares about. She also uses PostRank to filter up the blog posts that have lots of comments or mentions.

Big fan of Yahoo! Pipes. You can filter on any kind of data that shows up in the feed. Downsides: Learning curve, sometimes flaky. And it could be killed by Yahoo!.

FeedRinse: Easy to use, not as flexible.
FeedDemon: Allows some filtering.
Many of the smaller services have gone out of business.

Foster has a lot of screencasts on her blog about how to use Yahoo! Pipes.

Simple filter: Gives Yahoo! Pipes two RSS feeds, a few keywords to filter on, and it will spit out one RSS feed that displays only the posts matching the criteria.

PostRank takes a feed and ranks the posts based on engagement. Then you can get the output as an RSS feed. Then, the PostRank info goes into the RSS feed, so you can use it again in Yahoo! Pipes.

RSS feeds should include title, author, dates, links, content, but many also include things like latitude, longitude, and lots more — but your RSS reader likely isn’t displaying that. Also, many APIs include even more data and can be turned into RSS.

So using Postrank, she runs 3 RSS feeds through PostRank and then takes those best-post feeds and runs it through Yahoo! Pipes and sorts by best posts overall on a topic she’s interested in.

She also uses Yahoo! Pipes to modify the format of RSS feeds. This is cool. You’ll have to pull her slides, but she has one that shows you exactly how she’s reformatting feeds to make them all look and feel the way she wants.

Now Foster’s talking about using APIs. She’s going to show us what she does with BackTweets. This service tells you who’s sharing links, regardless of the shortening service they use. They used to offer info in a feed, but don’t anymore. So now you can use their API to get it. She’s building a feed that will show her who’s talking about her posts on Twitter. It involves the BackTweets API, the Twitter API and Yahoo! Pipes. Get the slides to see all the details.

Also has a nice flow for doing a vanity search using Yahoo! Pipes. I’m going to check this slide out later.

Foster’s caveats:
Don’t ever use this in a production environment. Instead, write it in a real programming language with cached results and error-checking. You can’t build your business on Yahoo! Pipes.

Oh good audience questions: Can you manipulate audio and video files included in the RSS feeds via Yahoo! Pipes? Foster says, you can definitely pass that through into your output feed, but doesn’t know of any way to evaluate that info in Pipes.

Also, question from the audience prompts Foster to clarify that when you use RSS, you still have to abide by licensing and copyright restrictions that the original content creator has.

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