The Surprising Power & Challenge of Saying Obvious Things

3 Comments 11.25.12

You’d be surprised what uses of social media seem so obvious to some of us with just a few years of experience that they don’t seem worth articulating – but that aren’t intuitive to other people. Maybe they just aren’t obvious at all and it’s a sign of immature communication skills when we (I) think they are.

For example, our fabulous mentor Vidya Spandana asked me last week why one of our customers ran reports in Little Bird on their target markets and I said, “well, because when the most influential people in an industry are thinking about you and talking about you, they are more likely to spend money with you or recommend that other people do!” I thought that was obvious but she said it was not and that I should write it down and use it like marketing gold. Many other people I’ve mentioned it to since then have agreed. Vidya guided me through a number of use cases of our software, articulating the ultimate goal of the customer even if it seemed obvious to me, then making it more and more simple, general, comprehensible and easy for our next customers to relate to. It was a fascinating revalation.

It turns out that when working to help people adopt technologies that are new to them but not to you, an inability to describe the forest but for the trees comes at a real cost in terms of effectiveness. Articulating the fundamentals isn’t always easy, though. I suspect like many things, it takes practice and experience.

Readers, if you have other examples of qualities of social software that seemed to go without saying to you, but that you found out weren’t obvious to other people, I’d love to read about them in comments below.


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NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

The value of listening vs broadcast in social media

3 Comments 11.21.12

I finally wrote my first post on our company’s new blog yesterday, The true value of online influencers: It’s not about parroting your messages. I hope you’ll check it out, find it valuable, share it and join us for discussion in comments.

The post is a response to my frustration about the limited imaginations I see too often with regard to so-called “online influencers.” What do you do with them? Not just spam them and hope they’ll retweet you! But learn from them, build relationships and capture value over the long term. I know that in agency life, it’s hard to do that though. Clients pay the bills and they don’t pay for the long-term. Hopefully agencies can invest in the long term in a way that drives more business value in each short-term engagement. For example, you can charge more and land more business because you’ve developed long-term knowledge and connections in a field. That sounds more viable than charging a client for you to build those long-term assets.

One counterpoint that I think is really useful though is this, from Enterprise collaboration thought leader Greg Lowe on Google+

I think it all comes down to the industry to define the measurements that translate into $$$. Marketing has been promoting for 75+ years, these behaviors won’t change without incentive.

Something to ponder!

I’m concerned that it’s going to be very hard to define the measurements that translate value captured from learning and relationship building into money, though. Please, someone, tell me I’m wrong about that!


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Introducing Little Bird, the Best Way to Find the Key People Online

11 Comments 10.05.12

I’m excited to announce this morning the unveiling of the startup I co-founded, left journalism to do and have spent the last year working with my team to build. It’s called Little Bird.

Little Bird automates the discovery of community-trusted topic influencers and experts on any topic. You can find the best sources of information online in minutes using Little Bird. Once you find them, we’ve got a whole bunch of very cool tools you can use to leverage their collective knowledge.

Yesterday my co-founders Mikalina Kirkpatrick, Tyler Gillies and I closed a $1 million round of funding, with the participation of an All Star team of social media innovators, engineers and practitioners. The round was led by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who been a great lead investor to work with through our private beta period. Our other investors are Howard Lindzon’s Social Leverage, Wieden + Kennedy, Hubspot and OnStartups.com founder Dharmesh Shah, leading marketing consultant Jay Baer, Henry Copeland, Jonathan Siegel, Matt Haughey and Blaine Cook. If you’re familiar with the last 10 years of social media history, you’ll probably recognize these as some incredibly experienced and innovative people.

Introducing Little BIrd from Little Bird on Vimeo.

If you spend time online doing research to figure out who the best people to connect with are on Twitter, blogs, LinkedIn, Google+ or elsewhere – you’re going to love Little Bird. If you believe, as we do, that connecting with the right sources of information and engaging with them using the right tools can move mountains for your career, business and worldview – then I really hope you’ll dig in to what we’re building.

Sometimes I describe it as a robot librarian, swooping down out of the sky with arms full of power tools to augment human perception and memory.

I’ll write more later, but I’ve got to focus on getting ready to pitch the company at the demo day for the Portland Incubator Experiment (PIE). PIE has been a great experience and there are five other companies pitching today. You can check out the live streaming video at 2:00 PM PST today at http://livestream.com/piepdx

You can read more at the following coverage: AdWeek, Techcrunch, The Next Web, All Things D, Venturebeat, Betakit, Digital Trends and GigaOm and Wired! That’s most of the coverage, but my favorite so far has been Lora Kolodny’s write-up on the WSJ. (Yay!)


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

5 Unique Ways to Win Friends & Influence People Online

8 Comments 10.01.12

I keep reading articles about how to build influence online, because they get a lot of traction on social networks. Most recently, 35 experts weigh-in: How we create influence on Facebook, an article I thought I’d read just to see if there was anything unique about the Facebook angle. There didn’t seem to be.

Most of these articles can be summed up like this: be consistently useful, generous and interesting. That’s good advice!

I think it’s possible to discuss some more tactical methods, though. Here’s what I’ve thought for some time are some good ways to add value and thus strengthen your position, make new things possible, win friends, influence people etc.

Be first – If you’re the first place that someone finds out about something, they’ll likely notice that. Do it again and they’ll start paying attention to almost everything you do in the future. Everybody likes the feeling of learning new things early – the sources of that kind of learning are highly valued.

Be the best at articulating common things – If you ever look at the tech news aggregation site Techmeme, you know for example that there are often developments in the tech news world that everyone writes about – but some people write about them much better than others. That’s a great way to build influence, to create more compelling content than other people about issues of general interest. Maybe the things I’m writing here are really no different than what everyone else is saying – but some of you will like the way I say them, you’ll find them uniquely clear, compelling, inspiring, intelligent, funny, charming, whatever the case may be. Perhaps then you’ll follow me on Twitter so you can read more like this in the future. (Or use aarh-ess-ess)

Aggregate – Compiling high quality content well from other sources, curation, is a skill and a good way to build influence and add value yourself. It’s easier said than done though! Robots can be very good at it – are you smarter and more creative than a robot? You probably know about Brainpickings and BoingBoing, but how about OpenCulture.com, Dan Cohen and Kate Theimer?

Find a unique perspective – Have you read Monday Note? A good example of a site that creates high quality content from a unique perspective and thus has made itself influential. In order to pull this off, you’ve got to have a genuinely unique perspective on things and it’s got to be interesting to other people.

Be funny – If you’re funny, people will come back for more.

See, it’s not so hard. You just have to be consistently useful, articulate, generous, uniquely interesting, smart, fast and funny! In reality, any single one of these is likely to be enough to take you far.

Finally, if you really want to rock the social web, you should sign up to get more info about the startup we’re going to be unveiling very, very soon.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Meeting Prep, on Your Own Time: A Template Google Doc

4 Comments 09.10.12

After feeling frustrated that I wasn’t prepped as much as I wanted before a meeting called by one of my co-workers at Plexus Engine, I came up with the following Google Doc template to capture all the info we needed before meeting with someone from outside our company. I really like this system and thought I’d share it.

The procedure we’re experimenting with is to create a copy of this Google Doc, edit it to fill it out, then paste the URL to view it inside our company calendar listing for said meeting. I’ve been experimenting with changes; just tonight I added the field for “confirmed within 36 prior hours” because I try to email people the day before a meeting to confirm and set the stage.

This system helps us communicate explicitly about meetings, but on our own time. It doesn’t take too much time to fill one of these out – generally less than 5 minutes. We’ll see how it works, we’ve only just begun doing it. If you’d like a copy of that same template, I posted one here. I have a link to that master template doc bookmarked in my browser toolbar. If you can think of any other ways this could be made more useful, please let me know.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

The Google+ Power-Up Button

11 Comments 09.07.12

I’ll confess, I’m a regular user of Google+ but I haven’t played around with a lot of the features to really figure it out that much yet. This week I’ve been experimenting with a paradigm I’ve used with RSS and with Twitter, but in Google+ and I’m seeing some awesome results. It’s this: set yourself up to be disproportionately likely to see content from the most high-priority people in your network so that you’re more likely to engage with them.

I didn’t know you could do this with Google+, but if you look at the screenshot below – I’ve got a Circle I call “Key Peeps” – which is made up of a select few high-priority contacts on Google+. People like O’Reilly’s Julie Steele and Abraham Williams, now building Addvocate with Marcus Nelson, and probably the web’s leading Human Computer Interaction specialist (according to our company Plexus), Ed Chi of Google. These are all super-smart, really awesome people who happen to use Google+ a lot. Now that I get an email and a red square notification whenever they post anything, I jump right on their high quality content, engage with it and them, reshare it with others, etc. If I can do so in a way that adds value to them, well then that helps me move from wannabe to friend of Heavy Hitters to a Heavy Hitter myself.

So that’s the Google+ Power-Up Button, “send alerts for this circle.” It’s pretty awesome.

Think “nobody’s using Google Plus?” This alert system is making it sing to me like crazy. In the interest of full disclosure, Google put me on the Suggested User List of Google+ so I have 2m followers there and see plenty of activity, but I know not everyone does. Check out the big, deep thread of comments on a post I put up about Occam’s Razor the other day though. That kind of conversation may not be available to everyone without loads of followers, but you Google+’s Circle Alerts feature means you can develop a solid online relationship with just a handful of Heavy Hitters yourself too, no matter how many followers you have on the network.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.

Blogging is alive, well and very inspiring

6 Comments 08.18.12

Matt Mullenweg at WordCamp PDX

Above, WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg speaks to a full house at WordCamp Portland. I posted this photo on Instagram along with a note about how publishing used to be the exclusive domain of those who could afford to own a printing press.

I’m attending WordPress Portland for the first time in years today and it’s really inspiring to be here. The room is full of self publishers, new voices online, and more than 70% of them identify as developers. So they create in words, images and code. Mullenweg says that WordPress will soon see more than 100 billion pageviews every month.

Blogging is beautiful, it elevates the human spirit and enriches public life. In my work on Plexus Engine I see a lot of blogs on niche topics and there’s a whole lot more blogging going on than you might think. Geneticist Daniel Swan blogs about moving from academia to the private genetics industry. Ana Lilian and Roxana A. Soto blog together about raising bilingual kids. Jeff Rothe blogs about his collection of classic arcade game machines. And I think the world is a much better place for it.

I remember discovering how easy it was to blog, not so many years ago, and I really hope that lots of people are still discovering how easy and how rewarding it is every day today. Yes, Facebook and Twitter are even easier – but there’s nothing like a good blog post.


I want to make sure you know about NTEN - the Nonprofit Technology Network.

NTEN helps nonprofits learn to use the web effectively.