How automation in social media marketing can make you smarter instead of dumber

3 Comments 11.04.14

It’s tempting to try to put your business’s social networking on auto-pilot, but that’s not a way to get great results. Used effectively though, smart automation can be an important part of the game and help real-live humans up their impact in competitive markets.

I’ve used, built and seen examples good and bad of automated social media for years.

Here’s my perspective: The best automation saves time but it doesn’t replace hard work done by hand. Instead, it provides a foundation for you to shift your energy from drudgery and filtering through people and content, over to more high-skill and high-impact work, like responding, replying, resharing and creating great content and strategic connections. Let the machines do what they’re best at, so you as a smart professional can do what you’re best at: thinking and communicating.

Here are some examples of good and bad automation in social media, in my experienced opinion.

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So you want to make an announcement: 7 steps to make it a big one

4 Comments 10.31.14

I have been on one side or the other of thousands of tech company announcements – from making tiny feature announcements at a startup that doesn’t exist anymore to reporting under embargo on many, many other peoples’ startup launches and keeping it a secret that Neil Young was going to make a big announcement at Sun’s user conference that I was consulting for. (I got to interview him after the announcement too! It was awesome.)

Here’s what I recommend in order to make your announcement the biggest success it can be. I keep telling people about this, so I decided to just blog it real quickly. I must confess, sometimes I’m good about following these steps and sometimes I’m not. For our most recent feature announcement, I did not – but for many other announcements by my company Little Bird, we did and we got huge results (scroll back on that page to see). It’s all about taking the time to build the social capital and connections.

  1. Start planning as early as possible, weeks or months in advance.
  2. Make a list of who you’d like to talk to about your announcement in advance, in hopes they’ll talk about it with their communities come announcement time. Make special note of people you already have relationships with. (We can automate a lot of this with Little Bird, we just worked with Little Bird investor Jay Baer to do this, for example, which is what made me think I should write this post real quick. Advanced tip: I believe that the people you’ve been connected to the longest, and that you’ve connected to most recently are your most powerful opportunities – as your strongest and freshest connections. We automate discovery of that too btw.)
  3. Don’t have relationships with big voices online yet? Get ready to start investing time, brain power, emotion and communication skills in building those relationships.
  4. (more…)

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How I raised millions of dollars for our startup from famous investors like Mark Cuban: by blogging a lot

10 Comments 10.30.14

Blogging is awesome, it can change your life, it can change the world and I recommend it as a key way to join the global conversation around your area of interest online.

Other people at startups often ask me how I connected with Little Bird lead investor Mark Cuban, among the many other awesome investors we’ve raised money from for our startup. Our technology finds the most influential people in any industry and helps you build relationships with them, it’s used by some of the biggest companies in the world – but our first fundraising relationships were mostly built the old-fashioned way: by blogging a lot. Blog, blog and blog some more.

This morning I started to respond to an email from Portland’s mega-connector Rick Turoczy asking me to offer some advice about connecting with famous investors to a current member of the PIE startup incubator. I thought it would be helpful to answer the email in a blog post.

Dear fellow startup founder,

The primary thing that has made a big difference for me has been to blog. To write about my thoughts on my industry in a publicly visible way so that my personality and perspective were discoverable.


That’s how Mark Cuban found me, from reading my personal blog, before I was blogging on a big site like TechCrunch. No SharkTank in this case.

One day, years ago, before I had written for TechCrunch or ReadWriteWeb, when I was just blogging on my personal site,, I got an email out of the blue, from Mark Cuban, asking me to take a look at some proposed changes by one of his portfolio company’s website. There was an odd link to a Russian-hosted server and I thought “why would Mark Cuban email me? This has got to be some kind of scam.” But it had his email in the Reply to field, so emailed him. “Mr. Cuban,” I said, “I think someone is impersonating your email address and sending this weird link out to bloggers.” “No!” he wrote me back, “that was me! I read your blog and I like what you write about search and RSS, and I wondered if you’d take a look!”

And so I did, and our relationship was sparked. Seven years later I was raising money for Little Bird and Portland Startup Mentor Carolyn Duncan said “just shut up, sit down and write out the names of all the high net worth people you’ve met in your work that you think might be interested and email them!” My wife and co-founder Mikalina said, “don’t forget Mark Cuban!” Sure enough, I never delete a GMail, so I went back, opened the old thread and hit reply. The rest is history, and is detailed in this awesome Wall St. Journal article.

But it was all about my blog posts. That’s how I built the connections that led to investors like Howard Lindzon, Jay Baer and Matt Haughey too. Smart people who work on the internet read blogs. Admittedly, Mark Cuban especially reads blog posts. He’s an active blogger himself, he funded the first blog network in Weblogs Inc. (where I later went on to work for Jason Calacanis), he’s a blog guy.

But sometimes other people read my blog posts, liked them, liked me, then were interested in my work (including Little Bird) and when they saw it – told their famous investor friends they should check it out. Deb Landa knew my blog, then one day when she was visiting Portland and was in PIE, she knew me, asked to see my work, and thought Howard Lindzon would like it. Howard has now been our most helpful investor source of big intros. Dylan Boyd, one of the most-connected people in Portland, knew me as a blogger and told Jay Baer to check out my company. Jay is one of the smartest investors in the world about our industry. Andy Baio knew me as a blogger and told Matt Haughey about my startup. When old-school social media innovators hear Matt’s an investor, they know we’re the real deal. Not all of our financing has come as a direct result of blogging, our biggest investor is now the awesome Oregon Angel Fund – but even they were no doubt encouraged to invest in my social media startup because of my domain expertise.

So blog, is my suggestion! As our great investor Jay Baer said yesterday on Twitter, “Keep putting out great content. It will come back to you tenfold in unexpected ways.” What should you blog about? That’s one of the questions we can help answer at Little Bird, in fact – by helping find the hottest conversations among the leading thinkers in your industry.

How can you do that while busy doing everything else you need to do to create a startup? I really struggle with that now. But one way that social media pioneer Dave Winer does it is this: he answers interview requests with blog posts. Dave helped invent blogging (as well as podcasting, RSS and more) and goes so far as to say “Blogging is a lifestyle, not something you do inbetween things. For a guy like me, it’s the background, it’s what I do when idle, and when busy, it’s what I think about every waking hour.”

I tried to do that here, because this is a topic people ask me about a lot and I’m really struggling to consistently blog while building a startup now with 17 people in it. But that is a big part of what got me to where I am today and I shouldn’t lose it just because my primary focus is now on company building. The best evolution, says Ken Wilber (whose book I would have been reading over coffee if I hadn’t been writing this email – which is fine), combines transcendence and integration. I’ve moved on from my days as a full-time blogger, but I’ve not integrated the best practices from that experience well enough in my new life. Thanks for inspiring me to do something about that this morning.

Let me know if you’d like to hop on the phone or drop by our office to discuss this further.

best wishes and good luck!

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Gary Vee is wrong: the expertise edition

2 Comments 10.21.14

I like Gary Vaynerchuck – I love his new video podcast Ask Gary. But Gary put up an important blog post yesterday titled “Are experts the only people who should put out content?” and he argues that expertise is subjective, that it doesn’t objectively exist. I disagree and think it’s important enough to write a blog post.

Just because he’s seen several ways that people have been wrong about their assessments of expertise does not mean that the concept of expertise is invalid. TL;DR: I believe you can build expertise through consistent participation in global discourse on the social web. And I think that’s pretty awesome.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Robots attending concerts; what will that look like?

1 Comment 07.26.14

I find robots really interesting, in theory. I think of the network analysis and news research technology we’re building as a team of robots.

But this news that robots have begun attending human musical performances is really interesting.

This from the Intel/Vice collaboration The Creators Project

Damon Albarn, the Blur and Gorillaz frontman, released his first solo album Everyday Robots this April. Fittingly, two special guests were in the audience for a small performance yesterday at Japan’s National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation (Miraikan). Included in the crowd of fifty were two androids: Otonaroid®, a life-like female, and Telenoid®, a more abstract human form. Both sat front row and waited for Albarn to take the stage as a thunderstorm raged outside.

Below: two different robots listen to the music. Hey you with no arms and legs and a blank stare, down in front!


Here’s the comment I posted there. I’d love to know what sorts of thoughts all this brings to your mind. What do you think about robots attending arts events?

It’s interesting to ask why a robot would attend an arts performance. I know at least some of Intel’s robotics program is very focused on customizable, teachable robots as human servants. What would that look like in the arts?

Will there be a backlash where protesters block robots from entering the ballet, lest they learn the soft things that make humanity special and become more capable of taking control? Or will the robots augment our own ability to appreciate art, like the technology you see on TV during sporting events? If one dance routine has parallels with a previous one in history, would you like to see that highlighted before, after or during the event?

I’ve been watching videos about IBM’s Watson this morning and can’t help but think about these robots leveraging computer vision, natural language processing and ultimately quantum computing – processing data billions of times faster than computers can today. What does a robot like that bring to a musical performance? Will we be challenged to pay attention to the artists instead of the fantastic robots in the audience, much as our attention is so often held by our phones today?

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Why I Think RSS Still Matters

5 Comments 04.25.14

I still remember the first day I discovered an RSS reader, it must have been ten years ago. It left my head spinning with marvel over its power and possibilities. In fact, I told a woman about it on our first date and now that woman is my wife!

The idea is: subscribe once to your favorite sites and you’ll have one place to come and read all their updates when they are published.

RSS hasn’t changed the whole world like I hoped it would, but it has improved the reading and learning of millions of people. These days, after Google shut down Google Reader and hundreds of millions of people get news from Twitter or Facebook, many people question or just never learned the value of an RSS reader.

Here’s a reminder, updated for a social world. I use Feedly every day on my iPhone and recommend it.
* Just the news: RSS readers will display just the news from your favorite sites, no random social updates. Sometimes that’s nice – it’s high signal to noise.
* Don’t miss anything: Because there are fewer updates, you can more easily see all the posts from a site and stay up to date.
* Medium-length scanning:
RSS updates are much more lightweight than a full web page, but meatier than a Tweet. That enables a more effective kind of scanning.

Maybe it’s a matter of taste, I get most of my news from Little Bird, Twitter (I felt inspired to write this because of a Tweet!) or LinkedIn, but give me an evening reading session and I open up Feedly.

I think RSS is a great reading experience. It can expand your learning universe just as much today as it ever could. I still love it very much.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Pondering the Little Bird brand

2 Comments 03.03.14

Thinking about marketing and branding as I look at applicants for our Director of Marketing position at Little Bird, I’m pondering the following. 1 claim, 3 planks, keep it simple. (Simple is a challenge for me sometimes.) That’s one framework for thinking these things through, what others do you like? I’d love to know.

Claim: Little Bird will help you discover and create new business opportunities on the social web.

3 planks:

* Find the most influential people online in your market. Little Bird’s graph analysis (analyzing peer connections, not general popularity) is the smartest, most objective, flexible system you’ll find.
* Engage with those thought leaders and their hot content – so you can know, and show you know, what’s at the cutting edge in your field.
* Do it all at scale, fast: on your mobile device, for any topic, before any meeting.

Where’d you learn that? A Little Bird told me…

Little Bird is: Smart. Useful. Fast.

Maybe that’s still not simple enough. I just thought I’d post here and work out loud.

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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.