Getting more value out of old content

2 Comments 09.28.13

I just mentioned an old blog post of mine in an email to someone and thought, “hey I should repost that out on Twitter.” Titled How to Quit Your Day Job and Become a Professional Tech Blogger, it’s getting a bunch of retweets again, 3 years after I wrote it, on a rainy Saturday morning.

Here are three ways I’ve been experimenting with getting more value out of old content, whether it’s mine or someone else’s, whether it’s 1 day old or 3 years.

1. If you share it in an email or mention it to a friend, other people might like to see it too

I was telling my co-worker Shelby La Croix about this article “9 Things Successful People Do Differently” yesterday too, for example, and may as well re-share it publicly elsewhere. It’s still really good.

The river of news online plus our linear conception of time might conspire to lead us to believe that old content is inevitably forgotten, but just like time travelers we can loop back into the past and return to the present with gems for use in building the future!

2. Share pull-quotes and highlights later

I’ve been using Pullquote.com to post highlights of my and other old articles to the social web. It’s attractive and like a whole new piece of content! You, reader/writer, are a web content DJ – remix!

Pullquote is led by Henry Copeland, who also built the fabulous Twitter analysis tool Twiangulate and invested in Little Bird (thanks Henry!).

3. Take notes and re-read them

As Ben Casnocha says, If You Aren’t Taking Notes, You Aren’t Learning.

There’s no need to be so negative about it, though. Framed alternately, notes you take on the content you consume are like a deep vein of gold in the mountain of life. Tap into them and it will be awesome. This is something I’ve been thinking about right now when taking a moment to pause from the hustle of startup life, how can I get into a regular habit of taking and re-reading notes? I’m trying to use Evernote files tagged Notes. It is so wonderful when I do. It’s like a combination of Harold Jarche’s Personal Knowledge Management and renaissance man Robin Sloan’s Fish. (“Look at the fish!” I often tell myself.)

I sure do love the Internet. May you get loads and loads of goodness from it, old and new!


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Real-time technology is changing the way I do business

0 Comments 09.25.13

I’m taking the time to write this blog post up real quick because I know that an email I sent this morning to one of our advisors about an urgent matter has been opened and read. A great service called BananaTag emailed me to tell me he opened it on his iPhone. Now I know he knows about the question I’m asking for help with and I can go do something else until he responds. (Thank you, Marshall, you rock!)

I love knowing when people open my emails. Thanks to Blake Robinson, who’s taught me about many things over the years, and who turned me on to BananaTag. I saw over his shoulder, by the way, that BananaTag data indicates Blake has an incredible email open rate. And he’s a cool guy, too.

This weekend Hubspot’s new app Signals told me, in real-time, about two key people visiting our website at Little Bird. Everybody knows that the best time to connect with someone is as close as possible to when they express interest – I think you can carry that out all the way to real time. I got great responses from both people I reached out to this way and I made a little podcast about one of them.

I’ve been paying attention to real-time technology for years, usually as a way to track news sources to report before anyone else. That’s how I got the job as the first hired writer at TechCrunch, I used an RSS to SMS alert system to get notifications in real time when a key vendor made an announcement on their blog. I was able to write it up before any of the other blogs and one day Michael Arrington called me up, saying “I don’t know how you do it, but you keep beating me to stories. I want you to come write for me at TechCrunch.” That was just one of many ways I used real time technology to build my career as a journalist. And now here I am. In a different stage of my career and exploring how to use emerging real-time tech for sales and marketing. Pretty exciting!

Hunter Walk says that you shouldn’t blog to show how smart you are, you should blog to convene a group of smart readers to discuss challenges together. So please, smart readers, share with us any thoughts, ideas or experiences you’ve got with real-time technology impacting the way you do business.


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How to time your outreach to influencers and press

2 Comments 09.24.13

When should you start outreach to press and pillars of the community before you’re going to announce something? That’s something people ask a lot, something I’ll be discussing at this week’s inaugural HypePDX marketing event in Portland and something I’d recommend most people change their approach to. I’ve been on both sides of the equation, as a journalist for thousands and thousands of pitches and now as an entrepreneur doing outreach myself.

Here are your options as I see them for press and influencer outreach, an embargo may or may not be appropriate. (Here’s how they work. More general thoughts on promoting a product launch.)

The worst: Last minute cold pitch with an asserted embargo and weakly relevant reference to the person’s past content. (“I saw you once wrote about X, so I’m writing you out of the blue about an announcement tomorrow and it’s embargoed until 9am!”)

Less bad: A week ahead of time with a well-run embargo. (“We have an announcement about general topic X that we’ll be making next Tuesday at 9am PST. Can I send you info about it under embargo until that time?”)

Realistic: A month ahead of time with conversations online so you’re a known entity when you pitch. (“Hi, I’m that person who’s been commenting smartly and resharing your content with my own added editorial value for the past few weeks. You already have some respect for me! We have an announcement about general topic X that we’ll be making next Tuesday at 9am PST. Can I send you info about it under embargo until that time?”)

Ideal: You’re talking with them right now, you’ll have been around for awhile. When it’s announcement time you’ll be able to say “Hey old buddy, we have an announcement about general topic X that we’ll be making next Tuesday at 9am PST. Can I send you info about it under embargo until that time?”

Pitching is just one of many ways to build visibility for your company. It used to be the primary way when media was centralized, but now we’re all talking online all the time and just being visibly awesome and adding value to public conversations helps you build thought leadership. You’ll probably still want to pitch though and so I hope these suggestions on timing are helpful!


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A formula for practicing creativity in a changing world

4 Comments 08.21.13

What if there was a scientific methodology of learning to quickly position ourselves to engage with great efficiency in practices conducive to the kinds of creativity, meaning and impact that we want and that the global economy is focusing on for human labor?

The following are a bunch of different, interrelated thoughts and readings that I thought it could be fun and useful to pull together and share.

An economy shifting toward creativity

Last week at the first SXSW event in Vegas, leading enterprise software and social business analyst Ray Wang spoke on a panel about The Future of Work, chaired by the amazingly humble-seeming Maynard Webb. I Tweeted some of my favorite things Ray talked about, like:

“People call for STEM skills or other skills to be taught more in schools, but business models are changing too fast for that. In the future, your ability to learn will be the key skill…

“The workforce is different today; key new non-monetary incentives for workers are meaningful and include: Rewards, Access & Having an Impact. Workers will sacrifice financial bonuses for those kinds of incentives.”

Ray also spoke about the decline in jobs that will be eliminated by the rise of cognitive computing that can perform tasks like basic legal analysis and other routine analytical skills. I asked the panel what would happen to those people in society who didn’t want to rise up to new opportunities for more flexible, creative work and hustle, because work was a straightforward way to put food on the table and pay for other things they care about more – like taking care of their families. That was another conversation.

Regardless, after that session, I emailed Ray a chart I found some time ago when looking at a Little Bird report on international education. It is below.

I’ve been wanting to post that chart here on my own blog for awhile! It’s from an an OECD report about the change in demand for various types of skills over the past 40/50 years. (source PDF )

I find this chart very thought provoking. The only skills that have grown instead of declined are non-routine analytic and non-routine interactive. Routine cognitive has been on the decline for years and, as Ray argues, is only likely to further diminish with cognitive computing.

So I share that chart with Ray and he writes me back saying that the question, then, is how we teach Creativity.

One theory of how creativity happens

That brings to mind one of my favorite articles on the topic. From neuroscience writer Annie Murphy Paul. (The Five “Core Dispositions” Of The Artistic Mind). I regularly remind myself of what she says are the 5 key dispositions essential to creativity:
* Inquisitiveness
* Imaginativeness
* Collaborativeness
* Persistence
* Discipline

Awesome! So maybe what the world needs is to be taught to foster those skills and thus creativity.

Practice and over-practice according to Kathy Sierra and Annie Murphy Paul

How do you do that? Two more perspectives come to mind. First, from Kathy Sierra‘s incredible talk today at the Hubspot Inbound conference in Boston. (video of related talk) Sierra made a case for a practice strategy that calls for 45 to 90 minute deliberate practice sessions, with clear criteria and immediate feedback, a maximum of 3 times before an evaluation. If you can’t become 95% reliable in those 3 sessions then stop (!) she says, because clearly you’re not practicing the right things and are only going to make bad habits more entrenched and yourself worse at what you’re doing!

I posted a comment about that on a brand new Annie Murphy Paul article over on Time.com (“Don’t Just Practice, Over-Practice“) where Murphy Paul summarizes a recent study that found that people who practiced a task beyond the point where they had mastered it continued to increase their efficiency just because they continued to require less and less energy to perform a mastered task the more automatic it became!

“The brain uses up energy, too, and through overlearning it can get by on less. These gains in mental efficiency free up resources for other tasks: infusing the music you’re playing with greater emotion and passion, for example, or keeping closer track of your opponent’s moves on the other side of the tennis court. Less effort in one domain means more energy available to others…

“‘The message from this study is that in order to perform with less effort, keep on practicing, even after it seems the task has been learned,’ says Ahmed. ‘We have shown there is an advantage to continued practice beyond any visible changes in performance.’ In other words: You’re getting better and better, even when you can’t tell you’re improving—a thought to keep you going through those long hours of practice.”

Overly-ambitious summary

To tie all of these different perspectives together (and please tell me what you think about this) we might say:
The world has long been seeing a decline in demand for routine skills of any sort, including analytical skills. The emerging workforce is meeting an increasingly rapid rate of change by calling for meaning, creativity and impact. In order to enable people to succeed in this environment, we need to help them foster the underpinning dispositions essential to creativity (also helpful for meaning and impact): inquisitiveness, imaginativeness, collaborativeness, discipline and persistence. Those practices should be practiced deliberately, through a small number of structured short exercises with clear criteria to demonstrate reliability and immediate feedback. If those initial practice exercises succeed in getting us up to 95% reliability after no more than 3 sessions of 45 to 90 minutes in duration, then the next step would be to continue with the same sort of practice beyond the point of apparent continued improvement. That’s because the improvement will come in efficiency and ability to shift some of the energy formerly required to engage with inquisitiveness or discipline – into greater augmentations of those dispositions, be it emotional expression or insight or perhaps greater creativity. And maybe that’s how any of us capable of doing so can become far more creative, capable, powerful contributors to the work and world we find ourselves in.

This is the kind of stuff I love to read about and think about when I can, but I also know that there’s a difference between an internally consistent narrative and something you can really go to town with. If you’ve got something to say about any of the perspectives above, any holes you can poke in this narrative or any supporting evidence you can think of, please share them.

If you’d like to follow a Twitter List of the top 100 most peer-validated experts on learning, we made one with Little Bird here.


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Stop Pitching Strangers on the Internet

11 Comments 08.06.13

Authentic influencer marketing: Make good contact with these people ahead of time so they’re not strangers anymore. You’ll be glad you did. This seems obvious but it’s not.

People used to say that you should reach out to blogs and social media influencers to cover your company’s announcement. Such a simple approach isn’t good advice any more though, because the playing field is full of desperate strangers cold-pitching online heavyweights. I was asked tonight by writer David Spark for an example of some no-longer-good advice that seemed to make sense in the past – and I’ve been trying to figure out how best to express this for a long time.

You wouldn’t walk into a crowded party and shout, “ok, who here is the most popular? It’s time for you to tell everyone about ME!” That’s what cold pitching influencers is like. It happens all the time. That’s not what we’re building our startup Little Bird to do, either.

Instead, you should discover people now (right now!), get to know them over time, enjoy the huge wins that come with paying attention to the best in your field, and then pitch them later once you’re a known and respected entity.

I’ve been on both sides of the coin on this, as the first hired writer at TechCrunch and then the co-editor at ReadWriteWeb – people were pitching me constantly. The ones I was the most responsive to were the ones I knew already because we had been talking for weeks before the pitch: about my work, about their work and about matters of common interest. By talking I mean they were tweeting at me and commenting on my blog posts.

On the other side, as a startup guy, consultant and now an entrepreneur I’m the one looking to get other peoples’ attention.

Let me tell you, it works much much better for everyone if you put in the time and can share real value through authentic online (and offline) relationship building. To say it’s worth it would be a drastic understatement.

I got started in my career by posting smart comments on peoples’ blog posts and linking to their posts in my blog posts. (1st person was Barb Dybwad, who is awesome and later hired me.) Today I send people public @ replies on Twitter. I read their stuff and I respond to or reshare it, with commentary. (Most recent example was Glen Gilmore, who I retweeted with commentary and who then followed me back and now I’m DMing with.)

In all of those cases I try to say something that makes the people I’m making contact with say “hey, that’s really useful/interesting – who is this person Marshall who just added that to my public conversation? If he has more things to say that are interesting, maybe I should be following him, too.” That’s how I’ve gotten just about everything I’ve gotten from other people on the internet: I did something interesting that was relevant to them and I used the structure of social media (comments, replies, etc.) to let them know about it. It’s not about stroking egos, it’s about earning peoples’ interest and appreciation for real. That’s not easy but there are ways to make it much easier.

So if you’re thinking “I’ll engage with the leading influencers in my market when it’s time for me to pitch them for coverage,” then you’re missing the point and leaving huge value on the table. (Imagine: “Hey Jared Spool, I have a product for designers – would you re-post my link? What’s that? You’ve written years of incredible content that could boost my professional development if I just read it and you’re coming out with more every day – and that’s why you’re at the top of the field? Whatever! Tweet my link, jerkface!!” < -- don't let that be you, no matter what field you're in.) And I'm sorry to tell you that unless you're incredibly, unusually interesting - you're going to have a much harder time getting someone's attention if the first time you ping them is to ask them to use their voice to promote you.

So don't pitch top blogs and social media influencers on your company's announcement. Pitch your friends online, the world-class thought leaders you've interacted with in a dignified, interesting way. You're smart and interesting, don't you deserve to be thought of as a peer to those people at the top? If so, you'd better get started now.

(We’ll make it a whole lot easier, by the way.)

Update: Here’s a great example of how you do it.

This morning B2B marketer Maureen Blandford shared with me a link to Alexis Madrigal’s great post about hiring Rob based on his great use of Twitter.

Rob got my attention by becoming a part of The Atlantic Tech’s extended cast of writers and interlocutors. His network analysis was uncanny. One minute I’ve never heard of this kid, and the next minute, he’s engaged in interesting, respectful conversation with half of my Internet friends.

That takes a certain kind of fearlessness, and most of the time it’d be paired with arrogance. But not with Rob. His humility is genuine, driven by a real desire to think this stuff through. And the thing that I always noticed about Meyer’s conversations with everyone was that he was such a good and generous reader of other people’s work. He tended to respond with whatever the opposite of snark is. His role became to connect good ideas with each other by connecting good writers with each other. He wove the social fabric tighter and made our conversations richer.

Full story here, with great detail. All of this is much easier to do well, of course, with Little Bird – but if you want to just muscle it all through, this is a great example as-is!


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Using Apps and Checklists to Learn More, Faster, Deeper

4 Comments 04.09.13

After years working as a journalist, I’ve now got a new job as a startup CEO and there’s a lot to learn. I’ve been using a number of new apps, all together, to speed and deepen that learning and I thought I’d share my new routine here in case of interest.

  • First, I use our own service Little Bird in order to view the hottest news among leaders in fields like Human Computer Interaction, Neuroscience, Sales and Marketing. I’ve got Hot News pages bookmarked for a variety of topics and I visit them regularly on my phone or iPad.

  • Then, when I find something that looks valuable – I save it in my beloved Pocket for later reading, generally on my iPad.
  • When I read the articles, if there’s something worth sharing I publish it out over Buffer.
  • Later, if I read those articles and find that there are in fact valuable insights – I want to make sure they don’t just dribble out my ears but that they stay inside my head. Mind mapping expert Chuck Frey says that learning consists of 4 steps: gathering, discerning, assimilating and utilizing. What I do is add any important lessons I learn to a mind map in Mindjet.
  • When I get around to processing updates to that mind map, what I do is put those lessons into a flash card app on my iPhone.
  • I flip through those flashcards daily as one of many different habbits supported by a routine building app called Lift.
  • One additional step I’m trying to add is to fill out this Evernote template to further explore the new lessons I’m adding.

It’s kind of a crazy detailed process, but just like I did when I was working as a journalist – I tell myself that if pilots on airplanes can run down a huge checklist of buttons and dials, I should be able to do something as simple as the process above. I probably need to turn it into a checklist – perhaps even in paper.


Above, my most recent lessons learned mind map, now featuring pictures of the people I learn the lessons from.

“Success is something you attract, not pursue,” argued personal development guru Jim Rohn. “Work hard on your job and you’ll make a living – work hard on your self and you can make a fortune.” I found that via a video that showed up in Hot News in a Little Bird report on Personal Development; I’ve put it on my mind map of lessons learned and in my flashcard app too. I’m not only focused on making a fortune, of course, but you get the idea: opportunity comes to those who have made themselves attractive to it through hard work on the self. That seems to be the idea, anyway.

As they’ve found at Khan Academy, explicit recognition of the plasticity of the brain – for example putting the words “the more you learn today, the smarter you’ll be tomorrow” on the top of a web page – leads to an appreciable improvement in learning. Metacognition.

I thought others might find that useful and interesting! May our learning help us all rock!


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Dear friends, let’s get small talk out of the way before SXSW

1 Comment 03.05.13

I’m going to see a lot of friends over the next week in Austin that I’d like to catch up with, but imagine if we got the small talk taken care of ahead of time and could start our brief conversations from a different place. Scott Beale, Violet Blue, Rachel Weidinger, I’m picturing you in my mind.

It’s in that spirit that I offer below 7 quick bullet points summarizing the most relevant parts of the last year of my work life and what I’m doing at SXSW this year. My personal life is mostly another matter, but know that my health is pretty good and my wife Mikalina and I are very much in love. Above: two of the many facial expressions available from Mikalina and I at SXSW, in this case in 2012. Photo by classic SX’ photographer Kris Krug.

I would love it if you’d return the favor and post some updates from the last year of your life in comments below or email me a note at marshall@getlittlebird.com if you want, I’ll read it on the plane! Imagine what we’ll be able to talk about together in Austin once we’ve got a common foundation of knowing the basics!

* This past year, I left ReadWriteWeb after starting a company called Plexus Engine, which has since changed its name to Little Bird. It’s a suite of tools that helps you find and engage with the leading minds online in any topic. It’s awesome & unlike anything else on the market. I’d love to show it to you sometime, but probably right now because we’re drinking beer on a crowded patio. (Just pretend!) The company was co-founded by my wife Mikalina Kirkpatrick and our technical co-founder Tyler Gillies.

* Little Bird closed a $1m round of funding, lead by Mark Cuban. We’re still in private beta but have sold subscription access to the service to a bunch of companies (mostly marketing, advertising & PR) we have 7 full time team members so far and are opening to General Availability this Spring.

* At SXSW we’ll be unveiling the first app built on top of our API. I guarantee you’ll hear about it because we have a massive promotional partner. I’ll be posting about it here and elsewhere tomorrow morning.

* I am having an incredible time being a startup CEO. Sometimes I miss tech blogging, but not very often and not that much – because I’m having too much fun having new adventures.

* Our biggest challenge at Little Bird is building the capacity to convert inbound interest into paying customers – right now my #1 priority is hiring more sales people.

* Here at SXSW I am not speaking on any official panels, but my very smart wife Mikalina is speaking at a Sunday AM workshop titled
Startup Operations: The Lone Ranger of Tech
. Also attending the event are our hard working marketing and sales guy Nate Angel and one of our data hackers, the fabulous Devin Gafney.

* The technology that’s changed my life the most over the past year, other than our own and its ability to bring the world’s finest knowledge on any subject to me with the snap of my fingers, is the iOS mobile app Lift. It’s a daily habit check-in app, with social and analytics features. I have never been a person with a structured or goal oriented life before, but I’ve been trying it via Lift and I’m happy to say that I am now a guy who does pushups, flosses, thinks about my own mortality and drinks more water as often as I could have ever imagined myself doing those things. Check it out!

That’s what I’ve been doing, now you know! How about you? Imagine if a bunch of us wrote out bullet points like this, we could start conversation all the further ahead of the basics. Feel free to let me know what you’ve been up to since the last SXSW in comments below.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.