Blogging: Not for the faint of heart   4 comments

I am struggling. My fledgling blog is now more than four months old. I have lots of ideas for blog posts. I’ve been invited to guest blog on more than one occasion. Readership is low, but I occasionally get attention from unexpected places. So what’s the problem?

I’m exhausted. Of course, as with most moms who are working full-time, exhaustion is a normal state of existence. Every week I end up writing late at night to make my arbitrary, self-imposed editorial deadline.

It’s not all fun. I enjoy thinking and writing. I do not enjoy digging up a suitable, Creative Commons-blessed photo to accompany every post (which is why I skipped it on vacation). While I occasionally break this rule I try not to as people tend to feel more engaged when there’s a photo.

I know I can do better. I am certainly not writing to my full potential or my own editorial standards (which I admit are higher than most), which is highly frustrating.

So why bother with the blog?

It’s calming. My world allows me few creative outlets these days so this is one medium that allows me to clear my head of many of the thoughts that are rattling around.

It’s a point of pride.  Seeing that list of completed posts grow each month is a very satisfying feeling and as is being able to count myself as a blogger (albeit a newbie one)

Professional growth. Writing the blog forces me to sit and really think about the topics of the day. What DO I think about Google+? It helps me focus my thoughts and form opinions that might otherwise have remained mostly dormant.

To compromise between my desire to express myself and my desire to salvage what’s left of my sanity I am changing this to a bi-weekly or even monthly blog. We shall see. I have decided that blogging is great, but living my real life is better. So is sleep.

Image credit: viralbus via Flickr

Beating a dead horse: 3 email etiquette pet peeves   Leave a comment

Email etiquette<Thwap!>

<Thwap!>

Ladies and gentlemen, that is the sound of me beating a dead horse.

<Thwap!>

I don’t want to do it any more than you probably want me to do it. But it must be done. These issues persist so I feel compelled to vent my anger bring these on-going issues to light. What am I talking about? Which dead horse am I beating? It is none other than…

…wait for it…

email etiquette. <cue large sigh>

Yes, we are once again (and still) discussing the rights and wrongs, the dos and don’ts, the ins and outs of email etiquette. Keep in mind that this diatribe is geared towards a business audience (if you use Outlook, this means YOU). Like all things, the rules can be bent with friends and certain relations. So without further ado I bring you my latest woes and recommendations for the betterment of all geek-kind.

  1. STOP WRITING ENTIRE SENTENCES IN ALL CAPS! NOW! See what I did there? Wasn’t fun, was it? It’s not any more enjoyable when the subject line of every email I receive from you IS IN ALL CAPS. Doesn’t make me answer any faster either. In fact, due to the involuntary wince that occurs every time I see your email I avoid it. So stop.
  2. Please write a subject line that tells me something about why you are contacting me. Blank subject lines, or things like “hey” or “Help!” or “marketing question” tell me nothing and once again do not inspire me to jump to your aid (okay, the “help!” one would–if I didn’t have half a dozen others just like it sitting in my Inbox). Help me help you: be descriptive in your subject line.
  3. Consider your recipient’s point of view. This where the “rational communicator” in me really comes out. It doesn’t matter what you intended (“I didn’t mean for it to come across that way.”). What matters is how your reader will interpret it. The point of email is to communicate and communication is a two-way street. Otherwise you’re just, um, blogging. BONUS TIP: If you get called out because someone took something the wrong way, just apologize for the misunderstanding and…stop. No excuses, or reasons, or defenses. You’re done at the apology. Move on.

Whew! That felt good. Now I can step off my soap box, stop beating this dead horse, <insert additional appropriate cliché here>, and continue about my life.

What email etiquette faux pas do you continue to see on a regular basis?

Image credit: AnnabelVita via Flickr

Posted September 2, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Communication

AGAIN?? Facebook privacy options change–this time for the better   1 comment

Facebook icon

Shock of all shockers Facebook is changing their privacy and sharing options again. Normally this is the time for a collective groan. However, this time is different. I’m actually looking forward to some of the updates. The predicted changes could actually make you more secure, while being easier to use. Here’s how.

Facebook icon For starters, you have to actively approve tagged photos of yourself. The fun part is that your coworker (who may not be a Facebook friend) can tag photos of you from the company picnic, but you still have to approve that tagging before it goes live. And if it is a very, ahem, unflattering photo you can send a note directly through the system to request that the photo be taken down altogether.

Facebook icon Another cool feature seems like it was inspired by Google+. Sharing things on your Wall with certain will now be simpler with “public,” “friends, and “other” sections. It is similar to Google’s Circles concept where you can categorize contacts to your heart’s desire and then share information to those circles as you see fit. Google still comes out ahead on the ease of setting up these circles/groups/cliques/whatever, but it’s nice to see this option simplified.

SFacebook iconimilar to being able to assign a Wall post to a particular group is being able to edit every piece of your profile right there on your profile page. Right on your page, without having to traipse through a number of confusing menus, you’ll be given the option to make each section viewable to a large or select crowd.

These aren’t the only features I like, but they are at the top of the list. What I can say is that nothing on the list of changes made me cringe. While some things I will use more than others, they are all changes for the better.

Facebook icon So if you’re a grandmother who only logs into Facebook to see photos of her grandbabies or if your life is a wide open book and you don’t care who sees anything you say then many of these changes will not be significant for you. But if you fall somewhere in the middle like me then there are some definite improvements here. These changes are beginning to roll out as of today, so if you see it check it out and let me know what you think!

Check out these additional resources for excellent information, screen shots and analysis on the changes:

Image credit: lawtonchiles via Flickr

Posted August 26, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Communication

My#FollowFriday favorites: Top 3 PR/Marketing/Comm bloggers   Leave a comment

This week I am doing you a favor. Rather than pour out my usual drivel I thought I would share with you some of my favorite bloggers/Twitter personalities. I admit, I don’t keep up with my blog reading as much as I should or want to, but when I do these are the people I go to.

These folks are brilliant, talented, and charming to boot. They are bona fide experts in communication particularly when it comes to public relations, social media and marketing. If you want to learn how to communicate well these are the people you need to know. Consider this one big #FollowFriday shout-out (in no particular order).

  1. Shonali Burke
    Sole proprietor (and sole employee) of Shonali Burke Consulting, Shonali hosts the popular #measurepr chat on Twitter and is the driving force behind the blog Waxing UnLyrical. I am also pleased to say I have met Shonali as she was the guest of honor at the very first Tweetup I attended, here in San Diego.
  2. Jay Baer
    A renowned social media consultant, Jay Baer is also an author and speaker (if I read books anymore I would definitely read “The NOW Revolution,” his book with Amber Naslund). His site/blog, www.ConvinceAndConvert.com has a ton of great info and tools you can use to plan your social media campaign.
  3. Gini Dietrich
    Founder and CEO of ArmentDietrich and author of the Spin Sucks blog, Gini Dietrich provides excellent tips and food for thought.

There you have it. There are MANY more talented folks out there, so I encourage you to scour the list of people I’m following on Twitter if you want to find more people I find influential and educational.

Who are your favorite bloggers and communicators?

“To thine own self be true” when choosing a social network   Leave a comment

Shakespeare had it right when he said, “To thine own self be true.” Bust of Shakespeare

Why choose one social platform over another? Why Facebook instead of Twitter or LinkedIn instead of Google+? It all depends on two things: your needs and how well each one addresses those needs.

Sarah Kessler and Emily Caufield have created an interesting infographic  (hot items these days) that essentially charts the top five social networks and how each one stacks up on certain criteria. View the infographic here. It is not without its flaws, but it highlights a key factor in choosing a social network: we join social networks that give us what we need.

For example:

On paper (or screen) Google+ really does kick arse. The only thing that it seems to lack is a built-in ability to do event planning. However, in the last several weeks I have been on Facebook and LinkedIn multiple times per day and Twitter every couple of days.

Google+? At  best once a week.

Right now Google+ doesn’t give me what I need. I need support and interaction with friends and family and out of the social networks Facebook is the one that best meets those needs.

What else do I need? Professional development. So I go to Twitter and LinkedIn to see what my colleagues are talking about and read articles on topics pertinent to my business. I could do that on Google+ as there is a flourishing community of my peers on there. However, that brings me to another need: time. I need something that is quick and easy and LinkedIn and Twitter provide me with that since I’ve already done the hard work to set up the networks. Google+ does not meet my needs because I don’t have time to set it up properly yet.

This all boils down to one quick reminder that goes for all the things we do: know what you want to get out of something before you start putting something (time, effort, money) into it.

The mighty QR code and its new rival: NFC   Leave a comment

The quick response (“QR”) code is just hitting its stride now. I admit that I was not an early adopter and had to be convinced of the value of these odd, square bar codes popping up everywhere in the U.S. (they’ve been in Japan for a while). You’ve probably seen one and wondered why on Earth anyone would put a weird thing like that on a sign or flyer. Well here’s why: a QR code provides a cheap and easy way to–among other things–get consumers to a specific webpage.

The Beauty of QR codes
So what? Isn’t that what the “www” address is for? Well, sure. But what if that www address isn’t so neat and tidy? For example, let’s say the local Islands* restaurant wants to send out a postcard that directs people to info on their specific location.

They could do it with this web address: http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/locations/info.aspx?l=5&r=26

Not so easy to remember or type into a computer, eh?

Or they could put one of these:

QR Code for info on local Islands restaurant

QR Code for info on local Islands restaurant

For those of us with a smartphone who have downloaded a QR code reader app, this code, once scanned, will take you directly to the address listed above (http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/locations/info.aspx?l=5&r=26). Aside from the initial download of the app (not a barrier for most of us) it’s a much easier way to get people to complicated and hard to remember (and therefore easy to forget) web addresses. But this is a very simple example. QR codes can do much more than access a website. Sending a text message or email or transferring someone’s contact info to your phone and downloading files are also possible . For a complete QR code primer check this out.

New Kid on the Block: NFC
Just when QR codes thought they had things locked up a younger, hotter model emerged. Near Field Communication (NFC) serves many of the same functions without the hassle of having to scan a code. If you come across a sign/business card/promo item embedded with a NFC chip AND your phone has an embedded NFC scanner then just wave one next to the other and voila! Information downloaded, webpage opened, bill paid, etc. But that’s a lot of ifs that only a handful of companies have control over. And that’s why QR codes will continue to serve an important function.

QR Codes are Egalitarian
I make two big assumptions for my next argument: you have a web-enabled smartphone and you have Internet access outside of your phone. If you don’t have these things then this blog post is entirely academic for you and you’re not my target audience anyway. Why are you here? (KIDDING! Hi, Dad!)

So given my aforementioned assumptions, QR codes are egalitarian because ANYONE can download a QR code reader to their phone and ANYONE can go online and create QR code for free (you don’t think I paid for that example from Kaywa above, do you?). Free is worth a lot. NFC on the other hand is dependent on getting your hands on the chips in some form and in having a phone that can read them. The former is likely to start getting a lot cheaper (but that still doesn’t beat free!). The latter, if you’re in the market for a new phone, is going to get a lot easier with most major phone manufacturers working to include NFC in their phones.

NFC and QR Codes Living in Harmony
It’s true that NFC can do much more than a QR code. Securely processing payments, transferring files between phones and other slick tricks go far beyond the reaches of a simple bar code scan. NFCs are definitely the future. After all Google is going all-in with NFC. Some excellent posts on the subject are here and here.

But don’t discount the (now) underdog. Whereas with NFC you have to obtain a chip and incorporate it into your marketing collateral and POP items, with QR codes you can instantly create as many as you want and have them on a flyer and out the door in minutes. Want to promote a new web link? No problem! Just type it in and get a new, free code in seconds. They are cheap, easy and effective which means they will continue to have their place in the marketing mix for some time to come. Some great discussion around this is happening here.

Do you think there’s still a place in the marketing mix for QR codes or will they be gone in 6 months? Leave your comments below!

*This is not an endorsement, I didn’t receive anything from them for this mention, etc., etc. They just provided an easy example to prove my point.

Posted August 5, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Branding, Business, Internet, Marketing

3 ways I cope with information overload   Leave a comment

I engage in combat every day. Combat against the onslaught of information that wages perpetual attempts to drown me. Also known as information overload, it’s an exhausting and necessary part of my existence. Whether it’s genuine CNN-style news, updates on my friends’ goings-on, or the latest blog post on the latest piece of fad technology, I feel compelled to keep up with all of it as best I can. However, some days I feel like I’m overboard without a life jacket. So what can you do?Technology

Here are three ways I attempt to maintain a shred of sanity in the overwhelming tide of information overload.

  1. Limit certain activities to certain devices. I rarely check Facebook anywhere except my smartphone. Just having it open on a computer invites me to check it more often than my email (which is a whole other mess I won’t get into right now). On my phone I check it less frequently, see the latest updates, then put it away to go back to what I’m doing. It helps me focus and helps prevent me from wandering off to other sites.
  2. Take breaks from your electronics. Seem counter-intuitive? I get that. But like all things, taking a break means we are more focused and efficient when we return. Instead of killing time looking for news, you give the news you actually want a chance to, well, happen. I’m not talking about a week-long, device-free island retreat (then again…). I’m talking about 15, 30 or 60 minutes here and there throughout the day. This is a tough one for me during the day. But at night the time between arriving home in the evening and putting my daughter to bed is a relaxing break that helps me focus and remember what’s important.
  3. Make peace with the fact that you’re not going to read EVERYTHING. Many times we try to keep up with all this news, particularly those of us in communication and social media, because we don’t want to be left out. But it’s ridiculous to think that if you work hard enough you won’t miss anything. You will, it’s a fact of life. But that’s the beauty of being part of an online community. If there was something really important, you’ll see it re-tweeted and talked about on Twitter, for example. For example, I rarely watch presidential addresses. I know if something remarkable happens I will hear all about it from friends, neighbors, or CNN.

These are just a few of the coping mechanisms I employ to help me manage information overload. What strategies do you use? I’m always in the market for new, practical tips!

Image credit: ÇP via Flickr

Can you take a vacation from social media?   6 comments

I’m on vacation right now. And not that I don’t enjoy blogging (because I do), but even I need a break from discussing social media sometimes. And yet here I am, feeling compelled to keep up with a self-imposed editorial schedule even on vacation. Why?

Even when something is your passion you need a break periodically to stay fresh and maintain your creative drive. Athletes have to take rest days. Students get a spring break. But so many professionals, particularly in social media, cannot shut off. We fear what will happen if we do. We’ll miss being the first of our friends to retweet or comment on a breaking story. We are concerned our Klout score will drop (yes, I checked mine and it’s dropped 5 points in less than a week)–even though we haven’t decided if we care about Klout yet.

Of course there are things we could do to maintain our social media presence while on vacation. Hootsuite allows us to schedule tweets and other updates. WordPress allows you to schedule blog posts if, unlike me, you’ve been able to get ahead of schedule and have posts ready to go (I admit that I am currently living the literary equivalent of paycheck to paycheck). Wait. That’s incorrect. Those tools allow us to maintain a media presence–not a SOCIAL media presence.

That’s really the crux of it. Those of us who are in social media do it because we are social and enjoy being sociable. When we “go dark” and turn off our phones and stop interacting with people online, we feel like we are ignoring friends. If we schedule tweets and blog posts and then go on an unplugged vacation we won’t be able to respond to comments and interact with our followers and readers. And as we generally like those people we don’t want them to feel ignored or unappreciated.

We also feel compelled to prove to clients, bosses and colleagues that we can keep up with social media presence virtually 24/7 instead of admitting we are human and need a break. We set expectations far too high and then have to live up to them.

As a protest to this virtual leash and to get back to my vacation sooner I am making this an abbreviated blog in a few ways:
1. You are reading the first and only draft (as opposed to the first-and-a-half or second draft you normally read)
2. I am typing this on my iPad which doesn’t allow for formatting changes (no putting clever or inspired phrases in bold to highlight them)
3. I am not including a photo
4. I am not digging up or including links to other blogs on related topics (and I know there are many so Google them)

How do you handle social media while on vacation? Without further adieu I bid you good night.

Now, back to my vacation.

Posted July 20, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Career, Internet, Social Media

LinkedIn Networking: Selective or Open?   5 comments

If you’re on LinkedIn much at all it won’t be long before you come across a LION.

Lion lounging

“A lion?”

No, a LION–a LinkedIn Open Networker. These are a special breed, folks who have decided they will connect with anyone and everyone who wants to connect (even strangers!). LIONs are often in recruiting or sales, industries that benefit from having as many contacts as possible. And there are definite professional benefits to this approach. Who wouldn’t like to have thousands of people to reach out to with a question or request?

The decision to be a LION or to be a more strategic networker is a personal one. I have chosen the latter route. It really all depends on how you plan to use your network.

“‘Use’ my network? That sounds a bit selfish.”

Not at all. A network is there to be used. Whether it’s a network of friends for entertainment, a network of family for emotional support or a business network for advice, we all have these networks because they provide value to us–we are using them. It’s only selfish if you use your network more than you give back to it.

But I digress.

Let’s return to our use of a network. Most of us, myself included, are suited for targeted, selective networks. We want to know (at least to some degree) the people in our network. However, even though I am a selective networker I don’t set the bar very high. Mostly I want to feel like you contacted ME in particular for a specific reason. That it was purposeful and not simply a sales pitch or spam bot. This way if someone comes to me and is interested in connecting with one of my contacts I know enough to know how the two people will best connect.

Either option is completely acceptable, so it just depends on your approach. Are you using this tool to generate sales? Then being a LION may be the way for you to go. If you prefer a little more intimacy with your contacts I recommend keeping things selective.

Additional Useful Links

http://www.stacyzapar.com/2011/05/what-is-linkedin-lion.html
http://www.stacyzapar.com/2010/11/why-i-decided-to-be-open-networker.html

Image credit: cheetah100 via Flickr

Google+ isn’t going to kill anyone (but it could make everyone stronger).   2 comments

Let’s get right to the point: Is Google+ a Facebook killer? In a word, no.

To borrow from a famous movie,  you don’t get to 750 million friends without knowing a thing or two. And you don’t lose 500 million friends overnight. The “social” in social media means that most people will stay where their friends are and right now their friends are on Facebook.

So what will it do? Google+ will definitely do some damage to Facebook, but it will take some time (case in point: they have temporarily stopped allowing new people to join). And in the meantime Facebook will be able to revise its site and develop new features to keep people there (Zuckerberg ain’t no fool–he’s the most followed account on Google+ and you can bet he’s doing his research). Facebook has already launched a new feature: video chatting with Skype. (Though Google+ Hangouts is still better.)

What Google+ will really do is motivate Facebook to improve its service and broaden its offerings. Make it easier to group people and send updates to certain people and not others. And while Facebook is working on that, those of us who are attracted to the new and shiny when it comes to technology will begin using Google+ until it eventually goes mainstream. How long that will take and what either site will look like once this happens is anyone’s guess. Google+ is still in its infancy so I expect it to evolve rapidly in the coming weeks and months.

Let’s not forget there are other sites affected by Google+ besides Facebook. Twitter, for example. While Google would like to make Google+ a Twitter replacement they are a long way from being able to do this. Where Google holds the power is in search rankings. If Google starts giving Google+ updates more weight than Twitter updates then companies have a serious incentive to interact with people on Google+ because it means they are more likely to place higher in search engine rankings. A great analysis and example of this is here. And Google also has Twitter beat on ease of use and slick design. So there is more potential for Google to do serious damage to Twitter than to Facebook. Twitter may be the best known provider, but its service is easily replicated and improved upon. They had better hustle to find new ways to engage with visitors or they could see a serious decline in use.

Finally, let’s talk about LinkedIn. What is LinkedIn? A place to post your resume, connect with colleagues, post updates, get info on companies and, as of recently, see news about your field. All right let’s break this down into its parts and review through Google+ eyes:

  • Post your resume – It’s rudimentary in Google+, but do-able
  • Connect with colleagues – Check!
  • Post updates – Check!
  • Get info on companies, including job posts – Coming soon
  • Read news about your field – Check! (See Sparks on your Google+ account)

So with only a few minor upgrades you could do most of your LinkedIn activities on Google+. The main thing missing is to be able to see who in your network works at a particular company or with certain other people. Until that feature is added LinkedIn remains a valuable tool.

The key takeaway from all this is that Google+ changes the landscape by providing a viable alternative to each of the three major social networks. However, there is still time while Google+ grows and develops for the other players to learn from Google’s growing pains and improve themselves. I’ll be curious to see if they do.

Image credit: RHW-Photography via Flickr

Posted July 7, 2011 by Lindsay N. Ball in Internet, Marketing, Social Media