Less Distractions, Less Tools

One of my 3 Words for 2015 was ‘Focus’. To be honest, it’s probably the weakest of the words I chose to guide my 2015, simply because it—ironically—lacks focus. However, I chose it because I think it was my biggest nemesis in 2014.

I won’t go into all of the reasons that focus became such a challenge for me (maybe in a subsequent post), but it’s sufficient to say that I needed a plan to clear out some of my distractions.

Tools Create Distractions

One of the big things I noticed in evaluating some of my key distraction was an abundance of tools. In my quest for organization, efficiency, and…yes…focus I had accumulated and continued to seek a variety of tools. Quite to the contrary of their promise, many of these tools actually increased complexity and friction in my workflow.

Here are a few of the things I noticed:

  • It would take me several minutes to set up my workspace—opening all the tools I felt necessary to begin ‘productive’ work.
  • I would often have to move (cut and pasting) data and text back and forth between tools.
  • I often wasted time looking for where I had worked on or stored important parts of active projects. No exaggeration, I would probably waste up to an hour a day just hunting down assets I needed for projects.
  • I found myself adding additional steps for the purpose of ’tracking’ or ‘organizing’ when the task was so simple it could have been completed quickly and was often only incidental to any significant objective anyway.
  • I wasted lots of time setting up tools only to abandon or rarely use them.
  • I wasted lots of money (a few dollars at a time, often forgotten and charging away every month on my credit card) on a bunch of tools that I rarely, if at all, used.

These observations led me to conclude a key source of my distraction were too many tools. Now for the solution…

Review of Important Workflows

My first step was to look at how I work and what I require to facilitate effectiveness in this work. Here’s what I came up with:

Client Communication - I run a marketing agency. Therefore the core of my business is client communications—collaborating on objectives, projects, deliverables, and outcomes. This communication is typically facilitated through email, documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

Team Communication - Second only to client communication, in importance, but certainly number one in volume and frequency is team communication. This back and forth ranges from quick questions to frequent tasking and collaboration on projects.

Project Management - Much of my day is spent on some form of project management. I continue to be heavily involved in the direct management and delivery of many of the projects and services Kaleidico delivers to clients. This work requires me to work and supervise all facets of ongoing client projects and services, as well as have immediate access to the status and assets necessary to facilitate client communication.

Business Development - This is one of the areas where I intend to increase my intensity and focus in 2015. It’s an area where there’s little process or consistency. My work here needs increased discipline and system development.

Business Strategy - When you run a business your mind always needs to be in the big vision. At the same time you need to be continually breaking that vision down into little bite-size tactics. My efforts in this area needs more ‘clarity’ (one of my other 3 Words for 2015) and a process for iteration and refinement.

Business Administration - One of my most hated parts of owning my business. I loathe the administrative details of day-to-day operations. My work in this area needs to be refined to build reports, metrics, benchmarks, and habits that make this part of my work less onerous and more effective.

Content Creation -  I love creating content. It is one of the true passions in my business. This work consists of capturing ideas, curative research and related content, outlining, writing, illustrating, and developing new content. This is one area that you can definitely get lost in all of the great tools, but most are full of inefficient workflows and significant friction in the end-to-end content creation process.

That’s what I need to get done. Now, let’s look at the slimmed down list of tools and how I plan to use them.

Review of Necessary Tools

When I reviewed my tools looking for the necessary and discarding the unnecessary I used a very simple set of guiding principles:

  • Complete workspaces - Places where I can start, sync, and complete my work.
  • Easy collaboration - Most of my work requires collaboration with my team—several of whom are virtual or remote workers. The core tools I work with need to make this collaboration simple and robust.
  • Only the features I need - I’m trying to remove distractions. I don’t need a bunch of bells and whistles luring me down new rabbit holes filled with unnecessary configurations and processes.

With these concepts in mind I selected the following principle tools for 2015.

Google Apps - Kaleidico runs on Google Apps and has since adopting it as an early beta tester in late 2006, early 2007. Google Apps is at the core of our client and team communications, document creation and collaboration, and corporate archives. Google continues to improve this suite of business tools and it provides easy compatibility with any clients.

All of our final deliverables—documents, spreadsheets, and presentation—are created and finalized in Google Drive. This process ensures that we have a complete and searchable library of all of Kaleidico’s work products.

Google Apps will continue to facilitate much of the client communications, team communications, and much of my final content creation.

Basecamp - Kaleidico has also been a long-time user of Basecamp. This project management tool is the epitome of optimal feature-sets and collaboration. There is little fluff in this project management software, but exactly what you need to task, collaborate, and manage projects with a distributed team.

Every Kaleidico project goes into and is worked in Basecamp. This gives us a complete archive and record of everything we do for clients at Kaleidico.

Basecamp will continue to be the center of my project management activities.

Evernote - This is a tool that I have been using for many years, but also one that I have had and on again, off again relationship. In 2015, this will become my primary workspace. I selected Evernote to be the place where I spend most of my working time because it offers a lot of advantages for distraction free working. Here are some of the key advantages that convinced me this was my perfect solution:

  • Works on and offline, while syncing to all my devices—Mac Air, iPad Mini, and iPhone.
  • Allows me to capture ideas, research, and content snippets from anywhere—web browser, Feedly, email, camera, and voice.
  • Lets me organize and reorganize in any way that makes sense at the time. I can simple create notebooks, stacks, and tags to put content together to support current and future projects.
  • I see potential in the future for key features that I value, like collaboration (work chat and sharing), presentation, and reminders.

Evernote will grow in my workflow. It will begin to facilitate and organize many of my new systems for business development, business strategy, some business administration activities, and the majority of my content creation.

QuickBooks Online - This is another one of those painful necessities. QuickBooks has gone through a very painful (for customers) transition to the cloud from a traditional desktop application. However, for our size and complexity of business it is really the only solution.

To lessen the pain and distraction of this poor tool I have limited my interaction to a few custom reports that I have built to capture the key metrics and drivers of my business. Everything else about this tool is managed by our office manager and accountant—bless their souls.

QuickBooks will continue to be important, but minimal in my daily workflow. I will use it to inform my business strategy streamline my business administration tasks.

Miscellaneous Tools - There are a few miscellaneous accessory tools that warrant mention.

  • Snagit – I use this all the time to build specifications, documentation, and content for client and team communication as well as final deliverables and presentations.
  • Skype – This is principal means of communication for Kaleidico. It’s not the perfect tool, but it is our primary means of bringing our entire team—virtual and distributed—into a central cohesive work environment.
  • Spotify – I started this discussion with the word ‘focus’. When you’re looking to get things done and silence all outside distractions, nothing is better than your favorite play list. Spotify does this better than anything, for me.

That’s it. These are my tools. I’ve banned everything else as an unnecessary distraction.

I plan to spend the majority of my day in Evernote, transitioning to Google Docs to create final deliverables. Basecamp will be the nerve center of our agency; bringing together all of our discussions, tasks, and files—organizing our collaborative workflows towards project completion and delivery.

What are your thoughts? Do you agree with my tool diet to decrease distractions and increase focus? What would you do different?

My 3 Words for 2015

I’ve never done this before, but I think Chris Brogan is a pretty smart guy and he does it every year. Reason enough to step out and give it a try.

If you’re not familiar with the 3 Words a Year resolution/goal setting approach I encourage you to read the back story and Chris’ three words for 2015.

In a nutshell, it’s a bit of a shift in perspective from the traditional half-hearted, often cliché resolution or the long, never to be revisited listing of personal and professional goals. Instead you’re challenged to pick three guiding words that you can keep top-of-mind, helping to focus your pursuit of a great new year.

Without further ado here are my 3 Words of 2015…

Clarity - Like many people I have a lot things going on in my life–I have a big family, I’m an active leader in a new church plant, and I own and run a growing marketing agency. All this busyness can quickly become overwhelming and counterproductive. Combine lots of activities with my easygoing  personality and a high level of comfort with ambiguity and I often end up generating a lot of commotion with little forward motion.

This is why clarity is going to be an important tool for me in 2015. I intend to work hard at making sure that each of the major areas, projects, and endeavors in my life has distinct clarity of purpose and a clear direction before I leap in with both feet. If it doesn’t, I plan to step back and reconsider it.

Focus - Clarity is one thing. It gives purpose and direction, but then you have to stay focused. This is where my second word comes into play. I’m easily distracted and the very nature of my leadership roles cause me to be constantly dealt impromptu interruptions.

This year I plan to really pursue a more focused and disciplined approach. A big part of this will include me being better about teaching and encouraging those around me to be more independent and disciplined in their own activities. My hope is that this will minimize the occurrences of these unexpected crises, which suck off valuable resources and energy from more productive activities.

Systems – By design my three words work closely together, and my third word is the scaffolding that holds the other two together. Systems are how I intend to codify ‘clarity’ and ‘focus’ into the execution of some of the most important and most productive activities in my life.

Systems are how I intend to increase the efficiency, consistency, and scale of important activities that I know contribute to success. Developing these systems will require me to more carefully define and organize haphazard routines, build time-saving templates, and develop stronger habits. If successful, these systems should keep more things moving forward in a more predictable and consistent way.

Now, it’s your turn. I’ll only take five minutes. Try it with me.

What are you 3 Words? I’d love to hear and be inspired by yours. Feel free to link back to this post (http://billrice.com/3-words-2015/) in yours or Tweet them @billrice so that I read, promote, and encourage yours.

Happy New Year!

How to Generate Web Traffic that Generates Leads

One of the least talked about, yet most critical, components of digital marketing is the lead generation. To be fair, it’s also one of the hardest things to do with any consistency. Effectively generating web leads requires a perfect mix of relevant web traffic and website optimization to flow visitors to your website and into your sales funnel.

To create this potent chemistry you need to think a little differently. Here are a few of my core philosophies on lead generation.

Looking for People, Not Traffic

Generating sales is about inspiring people to buy your products or service. This is makes people the necessary focal point of any lead generation strategy. This is also why it is important not to lose sight of the fact that we’re looking for people, not faceless web traffic.

That’s why I begin my web traffic planning by writing down descriptions of a few of my ideal customers–defined user personas.

This exercise gives me a clear picture of who I’m looking for and how to appeal to them. From this picture I begin to survey the Web for where these folks might hang out–websites they read, people they follow, and communities where they engage.

If I’m not familiar with the industry or niche, I begin my survey with a series of Google searches. I usually begin with some broad searches about the industry itself and then begin to follow the rabbit trails until I start uncovering what seems to be the most influential websites and blogs (often the ones that seem to keep popping up in searches) as well as the most prominent people in the niche, often the owners and authors of the blogs.

After exploring via Google searches, I typically begin diving into the more popular social media and community platforms–Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Feedly. This process, although using the same techniques of searching and following interesting paths, has a slightly different objective. When searching through social media and communities, I’m more focused on the people and their conversations as well as the content they are promoting, the behaviors and etiquette, and the activities that generate the best responses (i.e., positive comments, sharing, and promotion).

Often times, especially if I am doing this for my own business, I already know a lot about the industry and the most influential publishers and people. In these cases, I go straight to where I already know my audience and influencers are, but I approach with a different perspective. I try to observe more closely the content, the potential objectives of the publisher, and the strategies most likely being used by key people trying to influence the community.

As you can see this initial process is more akin to a sociologist doing research than a marketer analyzing web traffic.

There is a time to get focused in on the cold analytical side of digital marketing, but when starting a new lead generation project it’s important to have a firm grasp of the big picture– a clear vision of the overall online context in which your audience lives.

Keyword Research is About Language, Not Traffic

Ironically we’re generally looking for a significant amount of web traffic when we build a new lead generation program, but I rarely focus on traffic counts in my research. In my opinion, these numbers are really the by-product of the content in these channels and the behaviors triggered in the people when they experience this content. 

That’s why I try to stay focused on the ‘why’ of how traffic is generated when I’m designing a lead generation campaign for any industry or client.

This philosophy guides my keyword research process, making it a bit different from what you might read from my other colleagues. When I dig into search keywords, similar to others, I’m looking for dominant clusters of keyword concepts and terms that most people use to look for things my business can help with, but I also want to know ‘why’ they use these words.

When looking for the ‘why’ of the keywords, I leave my keyword research tools and just start doing some Google searches.

During this process I carefully analyze what comes up in the search results and begin asking a few simple questions:

  • Is it what I expected?
  • Are all of these search results providing similar content and solutions or are the result highly diverse? Indicating one or more possible search objectives.
  • If there is diversity in the results, why are they different? Might there be a logical second search people do to refine these results to get what they really want?
  • What does Google think people using these keywords to search are looking for?
  • Is that consistent with what my business provides? Could I logically fit into this list?

Based on this review I begin to make a list of the keyword searches that are the most likely to be done by my target audience, the people I can help. And then, next to each of my keywords I make very detailed notes as to what I think these people are thinking when they do these searches and what content that I think would be the most helpful to them.

(Notice that at this point I’m not thinking about Google. Trust me if you are thinking about what this audience is trying to accomplish with these searches and you create ideal content to satisfy that need…Google will reward you handsomely in the search engine results, without trying to figure out how to game their algorithms.)

At the conclusion of my keyword research I typically don’t have a lot of keywords.

Sure, I have the typical spreadsheets full of keywords that my SEO tools dump out for me, full of tons of data around each of these thousands of keywords, but I only use these spreadsheets to look for interesting patterns. When I’m ready to get down to the business of SEO my list becomes very short and intentional.

This simple and focused approach is effective for a few reasons:

  • First, and probably most importantly, it will prevent you from getting overwhelmed with your strategy and executing poorly, or not at all.
  • Second, it will discipline you to begin with a smaller project that can be easily managed, rigorously tested, and quickly iterate speeding your path to results.
  • Finally, if you begin with a more manageable SEO project you will conserve resources during this initial testing and optimizing phase. Then as you begin to gain traction and your strategy begins to dial in, you’ll have the resources and budget to scale your success quickly and significantly.

When I’m doing my keyword research I always think of it as learning the language of my customer, not so much as a traffic generation exercise in and of itself. Thinking about keywords in this way prevents you from making the common mistake of putting all your effort and energy in meticulous keyword research, mistaking this research as what actually produces web traffic.

In all cases, remember when trying to generate lead producing traffic it is better to create content that talks to your customer, rather than devoting hours to SEO voodoo.

Information Architecture

Once I have my short list of keywords, notes on what my customers are probably looking for when they’re doing these keyword searches, and the type of content I need to start creating and organizing.

I think organizing your website content is one of the secret arts of SEO.

Most websites and businesses just kind of slap content up on their website. This can make it frustrating for your visitors and Google to find your content, ultimately undermining your attempts to get people to inquire about your products and services.

When I begin to sort and organize my keyword concepts and the content that supports them, I like to think in terms of a grocery store. Have you ever noticed that although they are all laid out differently you can still find things in a pretty efficient way? This is because every grocery store tends to organize in a consistent way–fruits and vegetable at one end, milk and dairy at the other, and everything else neatly grouped together in between. Your website content should do a similar thing, logically clustering like content together and posting intuitive guideposts (navigation) as to how to get into the right aisle.

Organizing your content has several benefits to generating traffic and sales leads:

  • Intuitive navigation provides your new visitors with clear directions on how to find what they’re looking for when they hit any of your web pages.
  • Content that is clustered together in a relevant way allows visitors to dig deeper and get lost in researching their question, without ever leaving your website.
  • The more helpful and complete your website is for visitors the greater likelihood you will have built sufficient trust and credibility to get their customer inquiry.

All of these same factors, promoted by good information architecture, influence Google to rank your content higher in their search engine and send you more web traffic.

Searcher satisfaction, and the signals that indicate that satisfaction, are important to your overall success in Google’s search ranking algorithms. Things like time on page, multiple page views, social sharing are all indications that people got what they were looking for and as a result your web pages should ranking higher.

Creating a Framework for Understanding

Ultimately online lead generation is about creating a website that creates a strong framework for understanding the problems you solve and the solutions you can provide. We can talk about all of the finer details (all important) of acquiring traffic and optimizing landing pages for conversion, but at the end of the day you are trying to help people understanding.

Therefore, my suggestion is that you begin your lead generation project with the promise of helping people understand a few concepts better. Then when they’re convinced they need professional help they’re going to call you first.


To busy to visit my blog on a regular basis, but you want updates via email? Subscribe to my newsletter and get the best stuff.

Want to lead more about lead generation? Download Simple SEO for Content Creators of Do a Little Growth Hacking, two ebooks I’ve written on specific aspects of lead generation.

5 Mistakes Founders and Business Owners Make

The statistics on new business failures is somewhat staggering. The most unfortunate part of the statistics is so many of the failures are attributed to ‘incompetence’, or what I would more softly term ignorance.

Having started a few successful businesses and as the current founder and owner of a marketing agency going into it’s tenth year of operation, I want to offer a little advice to new founders.

This is my list of top mistakes I have seen and have made in my journeys as an entrepreneur.

Underestimate How Hard it is to Get the Market’s Attention

When you strike upon that ‘killer idea’ your mind begins to see it everywhere–glaring and so obviously frustrating. The application of your idea becomes the apparent solution to so many problems. You might even get a few head nods from friends and colleagues in the markets you intend to serve.

Your logical conclusion is that it will be a snap to gain market dominance with your product or service. After all, you only need “1% of that billion dollar market” to make everyone concerned wealthy.

Here’s the reality…

Simply getting in front of the market is going to be a challenge in and of itself. Online used to be the cheapest path to awareness. Capturing a reasonably sized audience wasn’t terribly difficult–the competition in most channels was still sparse and inexperienced. Not so anymore.

In the early days search engine algorithms were less sophisticated and social media was simply and open megaphone. The game in both of these channels was easily ‘hacked’ to generate significant (free) web traffic and user acquisition.

Much of that has changed as these channels have grown up and become publicly traded companies–reporting to anxious shareholders. Platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and even Google and Bing need desperately to meet the earnings expectations of investors, every quarter. As a result, if you want attention for your new product or service, you’re going to have to pay for every impression.

When you try to enter the market not only do you need to solve a problem, you have to change behavior. Have you ever tried to break or change a habit? That’s the kind of friction that you’re facing, on a market-size scale.

I can’t tell you the number of decision makers I’ve talked to over the years that are willing (and will tell you as much) to hold the status quo, even if it’s harder, inefficient, and less profitable just to avoid the pain of change. It’s just part of the human DNA. Factor it into your planning.

How do you overcome these market obstacles?

Here’s my formula:

  1. Account for the time it takes to transform your markets’ attitudes and habits. Make sure that it’s factored into your startup’s runaway. That generally means funding and investor patience.
  2. Start conditioning the market. Aggressively introduce your new thinking long before the product hits the market. Talk about the problem. Talk about why it needs to be solved. And start suggesting conceptual solution sets. Don’t keep your solution secret. It’s a foolish and often fatal irrational mistake many new entrepreneurs make. Remember, at this point, chances are no one cares. If you want to see someone that is masterful at this and is always launching new ideas and products, start following Dave Winer and reading Scripting.com. You will see the model over and over.
  3. In the process of conditioning the market, make as many relationships as possible. You’re looking to gather in two types of people: users that are looking for or willing to test a solution like yours (i.e., early adopters, perpetual beta users, and loyal users and advocates) and people that are always curious and advocating new approaches (i.e., industry leaders, journalist, bloggers, and vocal VCs).

You should be working on these steps pre-launch, probably even pre-product development.

If you get comfortable with “narrating your work”  you can leverage the army of beta testers that populate the Internet. This approach will give you an enormous advantage in conserving the finite time and money that can be invested in any new venture.

If you can accomplish these steps through the efficient allocation of brain power and brain writing you will net two huge advantage. First, you will have a better understanding of whether or not there is a market. Second, if there is a market, you will have a built in fan base of users and promoters.

If there’s no market, you will know long before you sink a lot of resources into the idea and are in a stronger position to pivot to a better approach or new idea.

Underestimate How Much Money it Takes to Run Any Business

Developing a new web application or opening an online storefront has never been easier, or cheaper. The proliferation of simple content management systems and website building platforms, like WordPress and Squarespace, make a professional web presence only a good day’s work.

The challenge comes when you need to start operating your business in a sustainable way. At that point profit straining overhead enters the equation: state and federal registrations, regulations, and filings; employees and their health benefits, 401ks, unemployment, workers’ compensation; managing the books, accounting, paying the bills, invoicing, and collecting; office space, software and tools.

It all adds up and quickly drains critical capital necessary to fuel ongoing product development and innovation, sales, and marketing.

However, you have to be careful not to starve out momentum by focusing on these expenses too closely. Business is a flywheel, it takes a lot more effort and cash in the beginning, but once the energy begins to build it gives off exponential returns. Just be mindful, though not consumed, by the cost of getting to scale with your new venture.

Stops Dialing and Answering the Phone Too Early

Letting go of sales and marketing too soon is, in my estimation, one of the biggest and most consistent mistakes founders make.

Rarely will anyone be able to capture the nuance and passion required to sell an emerging product or service like the founder. In the beginning, every product needs to be sold with complete confidence and a deep understanding of the most minor details. Every new market offering is inherently a complex sale–you’re selling not only the benefits, but also a change in an ingrained habit, belief, or attitude.

Despite the fact that the founder is often the best salesperson, most attempt to flee this post as early as possible. That decision can be fatal.

There are a few reasons this happens.

Most common is the flawed notion that you don’t know how to sell. I want to reinforce that this is an absurd and limited thinking. Selling is a survival skill that we learn from the moment we’re born. Observe any child interacting with their parents for any length of time and you will see a masterful salesperson evolving. Over the years we grow and perfect our salesmanship as we seek to get what we want. Everyone has some foundational sales skills.

Next in line is fear. Developing relationships is always a little scary. Lots of self-doubt enters our minds when we start thinking about approaching someone. How will I open the conversation? Will they accept or reject me? Will they simply shut me down because I’m selling? These are all rational fears, but you have to move them aside. Replace this anxiety with the confidence that you need to break through your own fear to help improve the business or life of a new customer.

Finally, and possibly the most damaging reason founders abandon selling, is the attitude that selling is ‘beneath’ them or somehow it reduces their credibility. You see it all the time, founders putting on airs of being inaccessible and too consumed with being King to sell. This attitude is not only damning to your sales, but also infects the entire DNA of a young company.

Your hubris around selling can quickly kill the ‘do whatever it takes’ mentality everyone needs to have to make a small enterprise grow.

Stays in the Day-to-Day Work of the Business Too Long

Much like sales and marketing, founders are often the best at executing the day-to-day business–at least for a period of time. At some point your business will necessarily grow beyond your skills and expertise.

At some point in the maturation of the company your growth curve will take you beyond the capacity of any one person to manage all of the operational areas of the company. At that point (hopefully before it becomes critical) there should be people and systems in place that give you key insight, but no longer requires your direct day-to-day involvement.

The other advantage to this disciplined release of operational control is that you can get refocused where you’re likely to have the greatest impact–leadership, vision, sales and marketing, and product development.

Gets Out of the Day-to-Day Work of the Business Too Long

As with most best practices there’s often an element of timing. So, although releasing daily operational control is often advantageous, it can be done too soon.

In my experience, there are some key elements that must be in place before you start this transition:

  1. The right people - Nothing is more important to sustained success in a business than recruiting, growing, and fulfilling the best people. You need to develop in these people the same passion for the company. They also need to possess the expertise and curiosity to grow themselves as the business. These are the people that you will eventually give the keys to and trust completely.
  2. Defined systems - This is one of the most common weakness in the transition. There is a tendency for a lot critical knowledge to be locked away in your head. If it stays there growth we be nearly impossible. You need to, from day one, begin to document and template everything possible. This will enable the business to scale beyond your personal capacity.
  3. Emotional readiness - This may sound like soft science, but it’s terribly important. You, as a founder, must be ready to let things go and have the confidence your team can win and leverage, as well as fail and recover, completely without you. The worst thing you can do when someone else is trying to learn to drive is to keep yanking on the steering wheel. If you can’t keep your hands off the wheel, then it’s too soon.

Mistakes are Part of It

Hopefully, this gets you thinking about your current or future startup. I’ve highlighted just a few of the mistakes that plague us founders and the businesses that we run.

I’m sure, as there are in my own company, adjustments to be made for improvement. Take the time to write down one or two things to focus on in the next week.

And always keep this top of mind:

Mistakes are part of running a business. How you respond determines what happens next.

Startup Ideas, Hide or Share?

Ideas are funny things, especially if they’re linked to a startup idea.

We tend to have them, assume we are the only one to have imagined such a thing, and then tuck them away in a notebook (or worse in some dusty corner of our brain) for safe keeping.

After all, we wouldn’t want anyone to steal it from us.

Yet, we never get passionate enough or focused enough to work on it and we never expose it enough to inspire others to try or attract like-minded collaborators who might motivate us.

How can we fix this natural reaction to our innovative thinking? Would openly sharing our best startup ideas help or hurt our chances for success?

Rethinking Content Management Systems in a Mobile World

What should a mobile content management system (CMS) look like in a mobile environment? This article: Rethinking the content management system for mobile started my mind spinning around the requirements for CMS in an increasingly mobile world.

Here are a few of my initial thoughts:

  • It needs to be easy to riff off of other content. By this I mean: Have a piece of content, like the one that inspired this post and easily include and cite that content properly and begin writing in the CMS.
  • As such, it needs to be seamless with my newsreader. This requires a simple posting API. Think Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, etc.
  • The content creation environment needs to be super simple, without distraction, and have easy access to my photos, camera, video, and other multimedia capabilities on my mobile device. This doesn’t mean a messy and technical WYSIWYG toolbar, just simple and familiar patterns of adding content using your phone. A good example of this is Vesper.
  • Easy to preview, publish, and syndicate. Once I have my masterpiece (quickly and simply) completed, I need to push the button and publish it to my website or blog and then automatically get it syndicating. What content syndication really means is a whole additional post, but you probably have some understanding of what that might entail.

Twitter is better when smart people follow you

I have soured a bit on Twitter over the last couple of years. I don’t use it as much as I once did and when I do, I don’t really enjoy it, like I used to.

Having said that, I do believe in Twitter (I’m a shareholder). I think it will be critical Internet infrastructure. And I see emerging markets and younger users using it enthusiastically, like I used to.

What makes twitter good or bad?

Why don’t I enjoy it anymore? I think it’s my fault.

I abused Twitter, more accurately my Twitter audience.

I have used my Twitter profile as a test bed for lots of marketing strategies–some good, some bad. I have radically changed my behavior on Twitter from time to time–some good, some bad. I have been erratic in my participation with my Twitter audience–some times attentive, often times neglectful.

As a result, many smart people have followed and then later unfollowed me. I enjoyed Twitter when a Tweet would trigger a great conversation. But, that was when my followers had higher ratio of smart people.

Twitter is better when smart people follow you.

Responsive Design Should Be…

Ric van Westhreenen has a great thought piece on how responsive design is missing the boat on delivering content in an intelligent way.

I don’t want to rehash this very excellent article, but I do want to riff on it a bit.

Responsive design, in its current state, is merely the shuffling of content–often poorly–to accommodate various screen dimensions. Not really complaining here, it’s a major improvement over past accommodations for mobile devices.

Responsive Design is More Than Screen Size

However, responsive design as a serious discipline is about to get much more complex as the Internet of Things becomes…well…a real thing.

It will no longer be enough to rearrange your content to make it readable on a computer monitor, a tablet, or a smartphone. After all, which dimension would you pick to render on:

  • an iWatch where I’m trying to manage my marathon training by tracking my splits and navigating a new route, or
  • my refrigerator when I want to restock my milk and eggs from the grocery store’s online ordering form or just want to update my shopping list in ,y favorite TODO app, or
  • my car dashboard where I am getting turn-by-turn directions to my next appointment and at the same time want to send a text message to my client telling them current traffic is going to make me about five behind schedule.

Today, all of this kind of innovation requires pseudo responsive design. More often than not it requires custom, often proprietary, and discrete device application development, which is MacGyver’d into the Internet with some wire and pocket lint.

Ironically, despite the custom development it rarely delivers a more relevant user experience. It often just repackages (usually in a bad way) the content taken from the primary website or application.

Responsive Design is Interactive Design

Responsive design should be evolving into a much larger concept. It needs to go beyond dynamic screen resizing and become the intelligent development of dynamic user experiences, supporting any device that needs the content.

Here’s the simplest of examples:

If I come to your website on a mobile phone I probably don’t want to browse your case studies.

It’s far more likely that I want to get your address or phone number.

So, instead of just squeezing and slightly rearranging your content, how about leading with your phone number, email address, and location with all the appropriate semantic and microformat markup. This way I don’t have to scroll your page to find this info in the footer or worse try to click over to your contact us page.

This approach enables the user to do what they are most likely trying to do–contact you on their mobile device.

Secret to Better Responsive Design

I think the secret to making responsive design better lies in better and maturing use of semantic markup in our web development and content management systems. Then we can let the things, that make up the Internet of the future responsively serve our content in a user-enabling way.

How to Attract Attention Online

If you want to attract the attention of customers, journalist, influencers, or any other audience for that matter, you can’t just talk about what you’re interested in. You have to capture their attention by commenting or expounding on something they care about.

I know…reading that paragraph at face value sounds like I’m patronizing you. But, I hear it and see it so often I think it’s important to remind businesses and marketers.

No one responds well to the, “Look at me!” call to action.

If you want attention, research what the person or group of people you want to attract are interested in. What are they talking about? What are they trying to accomplish? What do they want?

Take that research and jump in and add to the conversation. This is value creation and customers love that!

Disclaimer: This post was inspired by a demanding client email chain asking for the “Look at me!” lead generation campaign despite our frustrating resistance. However, any resemblance with reality is mere coincidence. I feel better now :-)

Blogging Platforms Should Start as News Readers

Blogging platforms should start with a blog (news) reader.

Why Blog Readers are Important

Despite what Google thought when they killed Google Reader, I think news readers are critical to the resurgence of the blogosphere.

This assertion is formed from my belief that blogging is waning because it’s no longer an accessible and rich ecosystem. In the early days of the blogosphere the community was small, bloggers were passionate about the conversation, and the audience reaped the benefits of this dynamic exchange.

If my premise is accurate, the best way to re-energize blogging is to recapture the attention of audiences/readers, blogging users. The consequence should be bloggers re-energize by the engagement and then writing out of a sense of commitment to their renewed audiences.

What do you think? Am I on the right track?

Blog Reader Platform Requirements

Here are my initial thoughts on what a blog reader should be.

By the way, I’m going to build this (at least to a MVP version) so if you’re interested in helping in some way, leave a comment.

  • Your news reader must be available to you at all times. That means you will need a browser and mobile device version.
  • Your account must be based on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ OAuth because you need your social graph for this to work.
  • Your news reader should immediately have relevant news in it. No fancy algorithms here. No sponsored or arbitrary A-list content. Your social graph should be the only news seeding factor.
  • Your news reader should acquire new content and content sources with a mechanism like Evernote Web Clipper. Instead of clipping stuff to some notebook you will never read again, you will be clipping in content, and more importantly news sources (RSS feeds), that you probably will read because it’s in your river of news.
  • Your reader will only be a river of news. No worrying about sorting and organizing. This inherently creates the anxiety of the red alert icon highlighting a bazillion unread items. I believe it was the death of Google Reader. Facebook,Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr have already proved that users are now comfortable with the river-of-news-only paradigm.

Now the Blogging Part

The next set of requirements begin to show how the blogging platform and blog reader begin to intertwine.

  • Every paragraph in your reader would have a mechanism (WinerLinks) to share the content at the paragraph level or entire post.
  • This share could be blogged to Twitter, Facebook, Evernote, WordPress, or preferably your blog. Attribution (i.e., a back link) would always be included.
  • When blogged to your blog it begins as an idea or seed. Kind of a blend between a link blog and svbtle’s ideas. Of course, this would be public, which would share into people’s news readers. Ideally this will generate comments, interest, and motivation for the blogger to flush out the idea–feeding the news reader, the blogosphere.

The net result of these simple activities is that readers and bloggers are once again feeding and engaging in a dynamic conversation on a variety of topics. Readers get a lot of relevant, current news and bloggers get immediately engaged, significant audiences.

Will this ecosystem work? Could this re-energizing blogging? Leave a comment. Confirm or refute my madness :-)