How to: Comment on Industry Blogs Without Coming Off Like A Spammy Jerk

It’s a fine line – you want to join a relevant industry conversation where people are talking about something related to what you’re selling. So you head on over to some blogs and leave some comments. Hypothetically, they may come out all…

(On my oneforty blog)

“My social media thingamajig is exactly like the ones you listed! You missed mine though!! Boo. ūüôĀ You want a free demo? Head on over to http://www.socialmediathingamajig.com”

(On the Blue Sky Factory blog)

“For more email marketing tips like these check out http://spammyemailvendor.com)”

Get the point? These types of comments are not engaging or conversational. They’re just really really really annoying, completely selfish, and don’t add anything to the conversation. And you know what sucks the most? It’s that you probably had your heart in the right place when you did this, you were just rushing through things and came off wrong.

I absolutely loved this HubSpot post that outlines some great tips on how to leave great blog comments. Definitely read their post, and keep these tips in mind:

  • Actually leave a thoughtful comment about the post itself. Show that you read the post. Refer specifically to what they said, or summarize part of it… (“I liked your tips on making the most of blog design, especially #5 and #6 in regards to designing a nice header and sidebar.”)
  • I think disagreeing with a blogger is actually a fantastic way to comment. It shows that you read the post, after all, and it engages the blogger in a conversation. Healthy debate moves us forward. But, be respectful. Behind every Disqus avatar is a real person with real feelings and a family and friends and a job and better things to do than feel bad about nasty comments. Remember, it’s just the internet! Don’t be one like one of those pompous TechCrunch commenters, please…

  • No-follow links: A lot of times when people leave a link to their website in blog comments, they are doing this because they think they are getting SEO value from it. That’s actually not true. Many websites have a “no-follow” tag in their code, which means basically that it tells search engines not to give that link any SEO credit from that site. People stick the “no-follow” tag in their site to prevent spam comments. Makes sense, right?
  • The real value in blog commenting is building relationships and networking. Honestly, it is so exciting to get comments on your blog! It’s fun to write about topics you are passionate about and when people talk to you about those things in blog comments, you’re that much more excited to connect with them. (It’s like when you take a chick on a date and you’re supposed to ask her about her stuff and not talk about you the whole time.)

So that’s my social media advice: Ask your blogger about her stuff. ūüėČ ¬†Or in other words, if you make it about other people, you build relationships. Relationships are much more valuable than some rushed comment just for the sake of leaving a comment and crossing it off the to-do list. I say, take your time to leave one good, thoughtful comment instead of 20 crappy, spammy comments each day. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t try to boil the ocean.

What do you guys think? Any other tips for commenting on industry blogs?

Open Groups on LinkedIn: SEO vs. Private Community

Now that LinkedIn offers open groups, community managers have the option to change their group settings. Switching to open groups means you go from members-only content, to offering your group discussions as public conversations that are indexed by search engines.

Coupla’ of things:

  • Current and past posts and discussions are not indexed by search engines, just the new stuff. Old stuff is archived in a super secret non-searchable section for members-only.
  • If you switch to an open group, LinkedIn notifies group members.
  • In open groups, anyone on the interwebz can view discussions, and discussions are sharable on Facebook and Twitter. However, there are manager controls available so you can restrict who actually is able to post in open groups.

I’m pondering the benefits of having a closed community versus an open community, and if the SEO advantages of open groups make it worth the extra moderation. Clearly SEO advantages are hugely important. However, in my mind your company only wins if people go from the LinkedIn group to your website. If people are just seeing the results in Google and not clicking through, or just reading the¬†publicly¬†available discussions and not doing anything beyond that, to me it feels like we’ve just exposed ourselves and compromised the conversations in our community for no reason.

I participate in and run closed communities and open ones. You can’t make a blanket statement and say that open or closed communities are better or worse than the other. It depends on your community’s content and goals.¬†I’m a member of a closed Facebook group for community managers. Joining is invite-only, and beyond that, the moderators control who is let into the group from there. With a small group of only 100 people, the conversations, information and debate are high-quality. Is it snobby to keep some people out? Well, no. If this amount of moderation is what prevents Spamcakes from blowing up a productive group with stuff like “Come check out my webinar/ebook/social media thingamajig!” then I agree with it.

I run a Q&A site for social media questions at oneforty Answers. We get some great conversation over there. The community has grown to the point where a core group will take off and have these awesome discussions on their own without me having to lead or push. The overall quality of the questions on oneforty Answers is not great as the discussions in our (new) closed LinkedIn group, though. It requires moderation. We get a lot of spam. We also get a lot of random and off-topic stuff that I have to sort through. However, everything is indexed on search engines so we get traffic to Answers from that, and we get traffic from Answers to oneforty.com. So, the openness benefits us…

…or does it?

Having an open forum is an easy way to get content and followers at first. But if you aren’t benefitting the community with quality content and making it easy for riff raff to join and post garbage in your forums, people won’t stick around – at least the people you want to have stick around. SEO gains are great, but (and sorry to be all rainbows and butterflies) so are loyal evangelists of private communities.

I say, first, look at your goals for the community – in this case, a LinkedIn group. Is it another venue to push out your own content, or are you really focusing on the member conversations? I think if you figure that out, you’ll see how you feel about the SEO benefits vs. increased need for moderation of an open group. I’m still evaluating what I’ll do with my LinkedIn group, specially looking for ways that I can possibly get the best of both worlds: have the content indexed by search engines but maintain the quality conversations that we’d get in a private community.

Home Exists In You, As You

The title of this post is a play on a quote from Eat Pray Love. During the “Pray” portion of the author’s year-long, post-divorce, tour de self reflection/indulgence, she takes a few months to meditate in India and tap into her spiritual side – ultimately deciding one truth: God exists in you, as you.

This isn’t the blog or time or place for me to contemplate the validity of that statement. But 2010 has taught me something somewhat similar: home isn’t a matter of location. It’s not found in other people. Home, your comfort, your point of reference, your strength, your truth… home exists in you, as you.

Home is: Choosing your choices

When I first moved to Boston in June 2009, I was extremely homesick all of the time. I went home every six or eight weeks. I constantly longed for my car, the suburbs, Wegmans, Tim Hortons, and most obviously – my family.

Something clicked for me when I was home this Thanksgiving. A year and a half later after moving to Boston, I woke up one morning and wanted coffee. Walking to Dunkin Donuts, like I do most mornings in Brookline – not driving to Tim Hortons like I was about to do in Buffalo – made more sense to me. I don’t know what it was. It was just what I wanted to do more than driving to Tim Hortons. I missed the city. (I drove to Dunkin Donuts.)

Later that day, I walked into Wegmans (a¬†colossal, multi-department¬†supermarket foodie-dreamland emporium) and was overwhelmed by the aisles and aisles of choices – I longed for the brevity and hustle of the Coolidge Corner Trader Joes. There’s one choice for Ketchup, orange juice or string cheese. And you will walk a mile and a half home in the rain with your bags. But somehow the thought of that shopping trip made more sense to me. I wanted to walk a mile and a half home in the rain from Trader Joes with my overpriced hippie groceries more than I wanted to drive home from Wegmans.

It wasn’t about Wegmans or Tim Hortons or even City Life in and of itself: I realized that day that I wanted what I have in Boston. I wanted my choice, without the regret, “what if’s?”, or look backs on the life I could’ve made in Upstate NY. Up until recently, I lived here with a constant voice in the background telling me it was selfish to move so far away from my parents, selfish to want to be here for career opportunities. There was a lot guilt – like I valued the wrong things or something.

I know this is what I always wanted though. I look at pictures of myself and I see myself as happy here. I can tell. I needed to get out of my own way and embrace my own decision.

Me, happy in Boston – February 2009. Night before a bunch of job interviews.

Me, happy in Boston – July 2010

I moved here in June 2009. But I chose my choice this year.

Home is: Your comfort zone

Sometimes they emphasize the idea of stepping outside of your comfort zone to get things done and reach the next level. I’ll offer a counter argument: I think if you dig deeper within yourself and identify what really drives you, what you really like to do and what you’re really good at – you actually get further. You’re happier, more relaxed and more productive when you discover and embrace your comfort zone. When you do what you want, you are who you are meant to be, and you live your right life: no matter where you are.

This year I finally had/gave myself the chance to ask: What would I wake up and do today if I didn’t do what someone else expected or wanted? I’m so thankful for that.

I realized: My natural speed is 150 miles an hour. I feel fulfilled when I feel productive. I don’t like to worry if things will get done – I just like to do them. I’m just not a lazy morning kind of gal, or a lazy evening kind of gal, really. I need Janet Time. I feel smothered without it. It’s just me. No more apologizing for it.

What activities make you feel alive, make you feel most like yourself when you’re doing them? When I’m up at 5 or 6 am going for a run, writing a blog post, in a leadership role, or drinking wine and having a one-on-one conversation with a friend – I feel like Janet. What makes you feel like you? Do more of those things.


Home is: Understanding where you came from but going where you’re going

Remember where you came from. Figure out where you’re going. Now, separate the two.

My life isn’t in Buffalo anymore, but my family is. It’s the people, not the location, that makes it a part of my core.¬†My bubbly personality is my dad. “Sassy Janet” – my assertive side which I’m so happy to say is coming out more and more – is pretty much just me channeling my mother.

Every day in Boston someone hears my accent and asks me if I’m from Michigan or Chicago. I’ll never be from New England.

But the 150 miles an hour? The startup chick? This girl:

Me on my first day at oneforty

All that stuff is completely me. Remember where you’re from: embrace it, love it, talk about it – it’s what makes you unique. But you don’t have to over-explain and over-justify where you’re going to people who want differently for themselves.

Home is: Being at peace with the pieces

My definition of home isn’t about having it all figured out. Trust me, Hello Kitty debit card in hand – I’m hardly a real adult yet.

What this all means to me is taking the pieces that you do have figured out and clawing on tight to them. Focus on your strengths. And think about how you figured those things out, and how you can apply that process to the parts of your life that you don’t have figured out yet. Because that’s the beauty of home: once you find it, it translates to whatever, wherever.

Community Management: Not An Entry-Level Gig

Today I threw this question out there on Twitter for my personal community:

I got a lot of support on this front…

When I came into my community management gig I had about a year of agency PR experience. So, that’s not a ton of professional experience, right? That said, I did ¬†six internships throughout college that added up to some semi-professional experience that I think aided in my preparation for this role.

I say this because come the new year many college seniors will be looking for jobs post-graduation. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, just like I was, you are going to apply to many different job postings. I think you should focus on the ones along the lines of:

  • Marketing coordinator
  • Social media coordinator
  • Account coordinator
  • PR assistant

There may certainly be the occasional rockstar/prodigy out there that can step up and handle this amount of responsibility right out of college. If you know you are that, then ignore what I say and go get the community manager gig you know you want and deserve. But, I think for the most part, people are better off getting some actual on-the-job experience so that you can really kick butt in the CM role.

Not all CM roles are created equal. I happen to do a lot of extra marketing stuff because I work at a startup. But, here are some things I do in my job and the type of professional experience that will help you:

1. Content Creation – I direct the content for my company’s blog. In the new year we will expand this to ebooks and more offerings.

  • Experience you should get: Knowledge of the industry you’re writing about, SEO, Google Analytics, journalism, general grammatical¬†aptitude…

2. Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn Princess – I’m the internet voice of my company’s brand.

  • Experience you should get: Run your own Twitter account, participate in Twitter chats to develop your own voice, write a blog to develop your own voice

3. Strategic Communications – When we screw up, I talk to people about it

  • Experience you should get: Public relations, crisis communications. (Tip: Be an account coordinator at an agency and read the account emails you’re cc’d on, even if it doesn’t require action on your part.)

4. Social Media Strategist – I decide what we’ll Tweet, from what tool, and I measure it to see how effective it was

As you can see, this is a multi-faceted role. It varies at every organization. Personally, it was a role I had to grow into as an ’09 grad, and luckily I loved it enough to put in the hours and additional effort it took to step up to where I needed to be despite my lack of professional experience. What I’m trying to say is that there is a lot more that goes into fostering, establishing, managing and measuring successful community programs than may first appear. We don’t actually just Tweet for a living!

So, 2011 grads, get some work experience. Learn some marketing, customer service and social media. Become the best writer you can become. Learn about the industry in which you think you want to manage an online community. How much work experience do you need? I heard at a conference that five to seven years was the target. I don’t know about that. I think two years is fair. But that, my friends, is what I’m hoping you’ll comment on.

A book I loved: REWORK

REWORK is written by Jason Fried and David Heinemeir Hansson, the founders of 37 Signals. With refreshing clarity and a flutter of snark, they share their¬†“cookbook” – a collection of short essays about lessons they’ve learned along the way from growing their product and business. I think it’s a great book for anyone working at a young company who wants a quick read and an uber-motivating kick in the butt.

These were some of my favorite lessons from REWORK:

Workaholism:

This resonated with me. They condemn workaholics, saying that those who like to burn the midnight oil just like to feel like heroes. They throw shear hours at a problem rather than effectively searching for a solution. Workaholics claim to be perfectionists, but that just means they focus in on needless details instead of moving forward onto the next task. I know sometimes I can get caught up in details too much, and it is incredibly time-consuming. Although marketing is very detail oriented in nature I think (someone has to nit-pick about grammar in copy!) you have to learn not to fixate on the stuff that won’t move the needle. You have to learn. I have to learn.

Draw a Line in the Sand:

This how you attract superfans. ¬†Whole Foods is an example. They sell high quality foods, and sometimes it costs more. (Ever heard someone call them Whole Paycheck?) When you don’t compromise on what your product is offering you’re going to turn some people away. However, you’re also going to earn a loyal following of evangelists who agree with you. In a somewhat similar essay, “Pick a Fight”, they explain the value of taking a stand on something, or against a competitor. Dunkin Donuts is the anti-Starbucks. Under Armour vs. Nike is another example they cite. One example I thought of was HubSpot, and how they draw a line in the sand and chug the inbound marketing KoolAid. They pick a fight against old marketing tactics and create content around why inbound marketing is the way for businesses to generate leads.

Out-teach Your Competition

This essay preaches from the gospel of inbound marketing, whether that’s intentional or not. Your competition is buying advertising and hiring salespeople. You can do the same thing, but early on, you can’t out-do them. But you can out-teach them. They point the Gary Vaynerchuk teaching people about wine with Wine Library TV as an example. This is especially critical for startups. You can’t afford to buy a Superbowl Ad, but you can blog about your industry and teach your customers, and that actually creates a greater impact than any advertisement long term.

Hire When It Hurts

This concept is the idea that you should only hire when you absolutely need that position on your team – when there is a gaping, obvious hole in your organization and the quality level is slipping because you don’t have someone there doing that work. The thing is, each person you add to the team alters the structure and culture. You can always add people, but if you grow too quickly before you are ready, you can’t eliminate positions ( :-(!! ) without damaging morale. So only hire when you absolutely need to, and hire only after you have done that job yourself for a while so that you are able to properly manage that position.

Throughout the book, they seem to emphasize the advantages of being uncluttered. Desks, software, meetings, extra employees, extra policies – all of these things take a company away from focusing on their core, and well, getting things done.

Strangers at a Cocktail Party

When you hire the wrong people or hire too quickly, you might end up with a “strangers at a cocktail party” environment on your team. It’s a bunch of strangers in a room. This environment means that no one calls anyone out, no one gives constructive feedback or says what they mean. It’s too nicey nice. It’s too friendly. It’s too politically correct.

I couldn’t agree more. The NY Times had a great article about Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s COO and Mark Zuckerburg’s Work BFF. They work so well together because they are able to communicate. I’m pretty sure that not all of their conversations are rainbows and butterflies. They can probably call each other out, give each other critical feedback and say exactly what’s on their minds. “Nothing goes left unsaid” is vitally important to me, and it’s a cultural value I try to instill in my workplace relationships (and in my life in general.) One of my mentors put it this way: Transparency is freedom. Try it at the office.

Meetings are Toxic:

I. Love. This. Concept. I can’t explain this as well as they are going to. But, if there is one thing I want everyone who reads this post to realize, it’s that your next one hour meeting with ten employees didn’t just take an hour’s worth of time. It was ten hours worth of time. Also, how much are ya’ll getting paid per hour? Meetings are expensive, kids! Was that conversation actually worth it, or could two people have sat down for ten minutes to get those decisions made or that to-do list mapped out?

(I want to run a marketing department when I grow up!)

Just… cancel your next BS meeting and watch this 17-minute video from Jason Fried about why you can’t get anything done at work instead:

As you can tell, I truly enjoyed the book and I think you’ll benefit from it to. You can buy it on Amazon here. If you’ve read the book, feel free to share your favorite lessons from it in the comments.

Swim Off Your Island.

Let me know if this situation is unique to my experience.

You’re at a startup and it’s mostly engineers. There’s one marketing person. It’s not that you don’t heart each other, but you don’t collaborate. You feel out of the loop. You actually have no idea what the other person is working on because you don’t understand their language, so their projects don’t become real to you until you see them deployed on the website.

This was my experience for the first six and a half months of oneforty, and it boiled down to a communication issue. Product things that I knew were being worked on had titles I didn’t understand, so I didn’t understand how it could translate into action on my part. (Oh, so this fancy code thing is a sick new website feature that could be promoted in a screencast for our users? Oh, so this feature is actually kinda huge and I should do some blogger outreach about it?)

We devised an incredibly elaborate and complicated solution to this problem. Now, this may be hard to comprehend, so here is the visual map-out:

Ask more questions! Talk to each other more. Explain your projects to each other. Provide some context. In the wise words of one of my engineers, “trust me, you don’t want to hear about every piece of code I push out.” He’s right. I don’t. He doesn’t want to see all of my Tweets either. Don’t micromanage each other – just communicate.

Ever feel like you’re “on an island” at your organization? Here’s my challenge: swim away and communicate. When you’re all in the loop, you don’t feel so alone on the startup rollercoaster. And when you’re communicating things internally, you’re better able to externally communicate new features. So jump in the water. Start swimming.

Tribute Pages and Facebook Groups: Can Community Managers Help?

By now, you may have heard of the tragic loss of Jenny-Lyn Watson, a 20-year junior at Mercyhurst College who was killed by her ex-boyfriend last month. She went home for Thanksgiving break and went missing Saturday, November 20th. A week later her body was found in a park near her home in Liverpool, NY.

The week-long search for her sparked extensive media coverage of her case. In social media, a Facebook group grew rapidly with messages from friends passing along current information about the case. The Facebook group now has over 26,000 members. A search for Jenny-Lyn Watson on Facebook turns up dozens of tribute pages, sadly, some restricted to no commenting.

Why no commenting? Well, there are trolls. There are people who write dumb shit in online forums. But I’m compassionate. I think people get angry and upset. Even if they didn’t personally know the family, maybe the situation hits close to home for them and it sparks a misplaced outburst. Is that ok? No. But I try to believe that people are good, just hurt, and not just trolls.

Even the pages that allow for commenting show that there’s trouble controlling the comments. Sometimes, they have to shut down the commenting capabilities because of disrespect.

My question to the community managers is this: What can we do to help? I’m serious. We are professionals with experience establishing and moderating online forums. Raise your hand if you are in charge managing one of these for your company:

  • Twitter account
  • Facebook page
  • LinkedIn group
  • Independently made Q&A site¬†(Like this qHub one I run)
  • Message board
  • Blog comments

Did you raise your hand? This means you have experience dealing with online conversations. You have likely written community guidelines, flagged comments, done a little policing, done a little engaging in an online community that is essentially similar to a Facebook tribute page.

Maybe we could help set up the pages and manage it during the crisis period. We could write guidelines, flag comments, moderate the page, etc. Or, we could simply offer training or “on call” advice to those who wish to moderate the pages. Would it be tough work? Yes. It’s a tribute page. This is sad and awful and real and it sucks. But I had this re-occurring thought about the whole thing: I didn’t know Jenny-Lyn. However, someone that knew her very well is managing this page right now in the middle of grieving. I don’t know if the page is making his or her process any easier, and maybe a little help from someone like myself could.

In November 2008 my friend Lindsay died in a tragic accident. She was in critical condition for several days, and the fastest way to get information was through a Facebook group. It was updated much quicker than the traditional news outlets. When it came to finding news from traditional news outlets, I would see awful, hateful things written about the situation in the article comments. Much worse were the comments in community forums that popped up in a Google search. One person’s honest search for information turned into a twisted game of dodging digital landmines. Seeing how media and communication had changed during that experience is what got me involved in social media.

So, I can’t say I know how Jenny-Lyn’s friends feel when they see the comments. But I can relate somewhat. And I’m wondering what my next steps are.

Boston is Awesome and Full of Swagger

I’m new to the startup scene here in town and I’m still getting a feel for the ecosystem around here. I’m doing a lot of listening, just reading blog posts comparing us to the Valley, about our lack of swagger or lack of innovation or this or that. I’m trying to get a sense of the environment out here and learn.

My take so far? I gotta tell ya, it’s not perfect here, but seriously, Boston is awesome and I don’t think we give ourselves enough credit.

Trust me: In June 2009 I wouldn’t have moved away from my parents ¬†– not to mention WEGMANS – to live in some overpriced shithole apartment if I didn’t love that city outside my door. (Seriously. I pay like $600 a month in rent and my shower head is held up by a hair elastic. Go figure.)

I’m going to quote Bostinnovation’s take on all the Valley vs. Boston comparisons:

“The environment we currently work in is home to a world class collegiate population, large amounts of VC and plenty of technical talent. ¬†Surely, world-changing companies have been brought to life in less favorable conditions than our own.”

Seriously, people. Boston isn’t so bad!

I’m going to talk to you about Techrigy/Alterian. They created a social media monitoring software, SM2, out of Aaron Newman’s basement in Rochester, NY in 2006.

There are definitely innovators in Rochester, NY – but Twitter and tech and such isn’t as ubiquitous as around here. In Boston, my boss’ three-year-old daughter knows how to use an iPad. Every major company and even local businesses know their way around social media around here. It’s not like that in Rochester. Many people are still figuring it out. Not the best situation for trying to sell a social media monitoring platform, right?

The people at Techrigy didn’t waste time comparing their environment to others. They sat in the basement, and then sat in an office with no windows, and worked their butts off. And then they got acquired.

So, I’m not saying that they are Google – but they are still a startup success story and awesome.

Beantown’s doing alright! We have the tech scene and the educational institutions at our hands. There’s a lot of young energy and leadership in the community, making it a place that new people like me want to be a part of. (Follow @GreenhornBoston, @BosWomenpreneurs @DartBoston and @Bostinnovation for a start.) I would just say that yes, it’s good to stop and question these things and look at what the Valley is doing – but let’s not get too distracted by it. We’ve all got work to do. After all, if we want to “catch up” to the Valley in any way – at some point you just gotta get back to your basement and execute.

A Life Told Online: It’s Complicated

This video is getting a lot of buzz and I think it’s certainly worth a look. It’s basically a cool take on how so much of our lives are lived on Facebook – and that’s just for your average Joe, not even a social media chick like myself that does this social media stuff for a living.

People blog and talk a lot about professional and personal balance in social media, and in conferences they stand up and say to “just get over it.” They’re right, at some point we have to just get over it. Google knows no difference. Your personal and professional accounts, opinions and profiles are this big hot mess of an online presence. If you aren’t comfortable with mixing that, you probably aren’t in the right business.

That said, I just want to put it out there that it’s still hard.

It’s hard because people my age haven’t only used social media for business use. We joined Facebook before we left for college, to meet our roommates and classmates online before we moved in freshman year. We joined before “grown ups” were on there, before there were fan pages to manage and before FBML was invented. We put dumb stuff up there sometimes because we didn’t know better. Facebook was an epicenter and broadcast portal for drama. And for some, with jobs that don’t matter so much what your “personal brand” and “online presence” is – it still is.

Now I’m using Facebook as a marketing tool, and it’s a weird conflict. I login to update my business’ fan page or create an event for a Tweetup or network with other community managers in the community managers group, and “on my way to work,” I’m bombarded by a parade of other people’s life choices, aka the news feed, leaving me feeling distracted and confused. All I wanted to do was plan a damn Tweetup and move on to the next task for the day. Now I’m questioning my path to personal success!

I don’t think that having separate personal and professional Facebook is the answer. Having two separate accounts would almost further distance the professional/personal sides and intensify the identity crisis, I think. Plus, in my case, it’s probably too late for that. It probably comes down to having more self-assurance and comparing myself less to people I don’t know anymore, filtering them out of my news feed even.

Anyone else struggle with this, even if we’re not supposed to admit that we struggle with this?