Year: 2015

Don’t Hold Up Signs on the Internet…

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We’ve all seen them before and I’m seeing more and more of them now that the Holiday Season is upon us (and today is “Giving Tuesday”).

I know I’ve seen a number of well-intentioned pictures of people holding up signs to support a specific cause on social networks this winter. A large number of those, especially on Facebook, have been churches and religious groups.

I hate to be Donald Downer, but be careful with such postings, especially if they include your face. It’s very (very very) easy to take those and do less-than-well-intentioned things with the images after they’re found via Google Image Search or a Twitter Search or Instagram hashtag search etc.

You’re not Michelle Obama, but that doesn’t mean that your own perception of your network size (or good intention) protects you from the wilds of the internet in 2016 and beyond…

Michelle Obama gave the Internet a sign—here’s what it gave back: “But once Reddit got ahold of the photo, its users—well-known for hosting Photoshop battles such as this—went wild adding anything and everything to the blank page”

So be careful, or you could be espousing something you probably wouldn’t agree with.

Episode 15: Thinking Out Loud 92: Let’s Talk About Self-Editing – Thinking.FM

Elisabeth is joined by author Stacy N. Sergent this week (Merianna is out for family leave) to talk about great pups, NaNoWriMo, writing as a lonesome experience and also a communal experience, the role of editing, and the psychological flow of being a writer.

The post Thinking Out Loud 92: Let’s Talk About Self-Editing appeared first on Thinking.FM.

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My Favorite Music Steaming Service(s)

I agree with the post linked here… Spotify:

Spotify Is the Best Streaming Music Service: “As countless Rdio fans sit back helplessly as their accounts go dark, it’s time to be blunt. Spotify continues to outpace its growing army of competitors, and if you’re going to spend money on a streaming music service, you should sign up for Spotify Premium. Or save a few bucks and get the free version, because it’s pretty damn great, too!”

HOWEVER! I will include the caveat that I love Google Music’s ability to upload my own music and my wife and I (and our newborn and kids) make great use of the uploaded music on Amazon that powers our family’s Echo. Don’t get me started on my 10 year old (heavily) curated Pandora station which makes me pay for Pandora One every year.

It’s a hard-knock-life for us streamers.

But yeah… Spotify at the end of the day.

Becoming Entreprenuerial In Your Profession

Earlier this year, my good friend Thomas (a PhD candidate and officiant of my marriage) wrote a very timely post about his decision to blog despite some who advised otherwise…

Why I Blog — Thomas J. Whitley: “Though many academics have resisted the move toward ‘branding,’ it has long been a part of academia. One’s credentials, what they’ve written, and where they’ve taught make up their brand and determine, to a large extent, who reads them, who assigns them, and who thinks of them for panel invitations and professional society nominations. Branding has only become more important with the ubiquity of information readily available on the internet.”

Whether you’re a teacher, preacher, business, nonprofit, politician, or insurance salesperson… you should blog.

“Giving away” your knowledge results in so many worthwhile returns.

Trust me.

Fusion’s 8 Person Snapchat Team

Fusion is a popular “millennial” lifestyle news / site and has a team of 12 devoted to Snapchat, Vine, and Instagram (8 alone for Snapchat).

I talked about the how’s / why’s news and lifestyle sites are devoting such resources to these networks recently, and this is further validation:

Fusion’s got a 12-person distributed news team: “The digital news site and cable network for millennials on Monday announced a new team to create stories and videos meant to be read and watched exclusively on social platforms. The social newsroom of 12 people includes eight who are focused on Snapchat alone. Others work on Instagram and Vine. Fusion hired Laura Feinstein, a former editor in chief of Vice’s Intel-backed Creator’s Project, to lead the group.”

“News” as we know it in its commodified post-industrial state is changing its delivery mechanism on an increasing pace from newspaper to newspaper delivery to radio to television to cable to the web to social networks to messaging…

Should You Use WordPress.com or Host Your Own WordPress Site?

I am often asked by Harrelson Agency clients and potential clients if they should use a WordPress.com site or have us build and host a WordPress site for them. Money is often a main concern, as you can pay $100 – 120 a year for a pretty solid WordPress.com site without much fuss. A hosted WordPress site can cost anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars in building costs, and more for hosting and programming. As with anything, discuss the costs upfront with the agency or company building your site if you go the self-hosted route.

There are advantages to the “set it and forget it” style of a WordPress.com website financially, but there are also a few other variables to consider if you’re looking to have a serous presence on the web and translate that into bigger goals for your company. Remember, WordPress started off as a blogging platform. While you can manipulate a WordPress.com site into a more “professional” looking business or church or group site, it’s not always easy depending on your needs and skill level.

If you do self host, you can use custom / commercial themes, plus all other free themes that exist. You can modify, customize, or do anything that you’d like with your site. With WordPress hosting, you’re limited to a set of free themes that exist in the theme repository. Also, you can’t modify the CSS or other codes within the theme. If you’re looking to customize the site with scripts and customizations (as an author / speaker / consultant / business etc) it’s definitely advantageous to be on your own server. This includes everything from being able to do custom embeds of media to accepting payments to contact forms etc.

Simply put, there are (often mission-critical) things you can’t do with WordPress hosted sites that you can do with a self-hosted site.

Plugins are also a big deal, especially as the web matures. You can upload any free, paid, or custom plugin that you want with a hosted site. This allows you to really maximize WordPress’ potential as a content management system and expand that functionality. With a WordPress.com site, you’re not allowed to upload any free, paid, or custom plugins. Everything from search engine optimization (especially needed in 2015) to handling social media sharing to newsletter delivery to some really cool media handling plugins to how your site displays posts etc are covered. Here are a few popular plugins, but I have a standard 10-15 that I typically install on a new site and highly recommend for flexibility and security and making WordPress more than just a blogging platform.

Of course, spending $99 once a year is a nice idea and provides a sense of regular expense if you’re looking into a WordPress.com site with ads turned off and a custom domain (and a little extra storage). There is a higher initial cost for a WordPress hosted site (typically anywhere from $2,000 to $35,000 for most group, church or business sites depending on many variables). However, the cost of a self-hosted WordPress site over the span of a few years evens out and you get a much “nicer” custom experience that is built around your own brand. This also frees you up from being shackled to whatever changes WordPress.com might or might not make as it evolves as a commercial arm of the larger WordPress ecosystem, as we’ve seen just this week … although the changes are all very positive this time. I’ve never had a client want to go back to something like a hosted service after they realize the options available and how the site “pays for itself” over time.

Maintenance is a very big concern for security and speed reasons these days, or at least it should be an absolute top priority. That does require that you keep your site updated, have backups, keep SPAM controlled and keeping your site optimized. That’s something we do for clients, of course. WordPress.com frees you up from that worry or need for maintenance, so that’s a plus for that side of things. However, like everything else, it’s a tradeoff between convenience and the ability to make something truly “your own” in terms of appearance and functionality.

The biggest point I always make when comparing what we can do with what WordPress.com hosting offers is that I believe you really cannot maximize the potential of your site / blog / online presence / long term branding unless you have access to the additional functionality of plugins and the ability to maintain custom modifications (and get down to the nitty gritty code based level allowing for you to make the site look and act like you’d like for it to). Being able to take payments, offer audio / video / text media downloads etc are all big benefits of what we offer with a self-hosted site, but the biggest benefit is that it’s “your” site and belongs to you, whatever may come down the road.

Edit PDFs stored in Dropbox from iPhone and iPad

Dropbox just killed a cottage industry of PDF editing apps for me (and I’ve spent lots of money on iOS apps trying to find the right PDF editor for commenting and signing that connect to Dropbox):

Now you can edit PDFs stored in Dropbox from your iPhone and iPad | Dropbox Blog: “With the latest versions of the Dropbox and Acrobat Reader iOS apps, you’ll be able to annotate and comment on PDFs stored in Dropbox, right from your iPhone or iPad. Just open a PDF from the Dropbox app and tap the ‘Edit’ icon, then edit or electronically sign the PDF in the Acrobat Reader app. All your changes will save back to Dropbox, so you and any collaborators will have the latest version.”

You have to have the Adobe Acrobat app installed on your device as well, but that’s not a big hinderance.

I noticed the desktop integration between Dropbox and Adobe while working on a PDF in Acrobat earlier this week, so it’s nice to see that carry over to the mobile experience.

For all the “Dropbox is doomed!” blog posts a few weeks ago, it’s still a critical part of our agency workflow. This only helps reinforce that.

Why WordPress Still Matters

Good thoughts from Om here about the place of having your own website (whether it’s at WordPress.com or a self hosted WordPress installation for more flexibility) and feeding the beast:

Some Thoughts on the New WordPress.com and Mac App – Om Malik: “Most of those platforms are built to be silos, Facebook and Instagram being the worst offenders. Their approach is a threat to the open web as much as the rise of the app-centric internet. As someone who feeds the monster, I should have the ability to keep a copy of what I create. To stay relevant, WordPress.com has to become not only a publishing tool but also a means for me to route my sharing. Its role is that of an information router. I am looking forward to what talented developers do with the new capabilities of WordPress.com.”

Will our selfies survive us?

We like to think pictures that we take (of ourselves and other things) digitally are eternal and won’t disappear into the digital abyss. 

However, is that true it will our JPGs and PNGs (not to mention associated metadata) slip into the digital dark age canyon we’re construction for our ancestors?

“If only they had used more permanent materials” our archaeologists lament about the past. I imagine that will be a similar lament in the future. 

WordPress Reboots and Opens Up Code Base

Today we’re announcing something brand new, a new approach to WordPress, and open sourcing the code behind it.

Source: Dance to Calypso | Matt Mullenweg

I frequently talk with clients or perspective clients about the differences between having a site on WordPress.com and having a self-hosted site on WordPress (I’ll write more about that soon). The biggest difference being that if you have your site on WordPress.com, you’re trading off some functionality and customization for a more “set it and forget it” approach to having a site or blog. Of course, both options have their advantages and disadvantages (again, more soon on that).

I’m glad to see WordPress.com code being opened up and the switch from PHP and MySQL to Javascript and an API for backend power, but I’m a little cautious about what that means for the self-hosted sites (WordPress 4.4 is coming) in terms of the amount of work I’ll be doing in December to update our clients’ sites 🙂

Regardless, glad to see the open web taking on the likes of Medium and Facebook.

Visually-Driven Information-Rich Explainers

It’s an opportunity for visual storytelling that you won’t find anywhere else on the web.

Vox’s email announcing their arrival on Snapchat included this:

We’re using it to create a new form of deep, visually-driven information-rich explainers that we’re really proud of, and we think you’ll really like. What’s more, they’ll only exist on Snapchat, and they’ll only last for 24 hours each.

Source: Find Vox on Snapchat Discover – Vox

I read lots of tech jargon and buzzword filled studies and announcements everyday, but “visually-driven information-rich explainers” is a new one. I’ll have to use that myself in a meeting sometime soon.

Explainers aside, it’s definitely interesting to see how Vox, Vice, Buzzfeed, The Verge, Gawker’s sites etc are pivoting. Their once advertising and story heavy front page sites, that more resembled a traditional print newspaper than something like a “blog” or “news website” (I think of boing boing), are being put on the back burner to the flow outward of their news.

There are very good reasons for this that we can all take something from despite our business goals. Advertising revenue on that mode of website is drying up as ad technology gets smarter, marketing directors get wiser, and viewers start going elsewhere for their information binges or check-ins. That shift of advertising revenue probably doesn’t concern your business or group etc.

Those elswewheres, however, do. And for the time being, those elsewheres are social networks.

You probably arrived here from seeing this post on Twitter or Facebook or Google+ (hey, some do). “Social” traffic on this blog and many of the client sites we manage has proven to be “stickier” than traffic coming straight from a Google search, unless the search was for a highly targeted keyword (say “visually-driven information-rich explainers”).

However, reaching people on social networks and getting their attention is not as easy as it was just four or five years ago. That’s obvious if you have tried to put up a Facebook post on your company’s page and waited for the highly qualified traffic to come rolling in without any further effort (hint: it won’t).

Vox gets this as do many of the news / destination sites in their genre of web writing. Companies and groups successfully leveraging (to use another buzz term) social media networks for traffic, engagement, or leads are also aware of the challenge.

To be honest, the ability to tap into social networks is only going to get more difficult and … bizarre in the coming years. Again, Vox etc understand that their their websites are transitioning into “dumb pipes.” It’s the same thing we all want from our cable companies or internet providers… don’t fancy up the service, just give us fast access to the web. We’ll find all the entertainment we need without Comcast throwing in a package deal.

Except websites are dealing with content and information, rather than bandwidth, for their flow outward. Why does Vox etc care about having their “explainers” going out to Snapchat? Because that’s where we’re increasingly going to find the news and content and opinion that we want to have when we want to have it. I’d venture to bet that Vox.com’s traffic coming in from mobile Safari on iPhones isn’t as stimulating to their bottom line as the traffic coming in from social sites.

Social networks aren’t just about pictures of your friends’ babies or cat pictures anymore. Something like 35% of Americans viewed Facebook as their main news source last year and 8% viewed Twitter as the same. That’s only increasing:

How do social media users discover news? Facebook is an important source of website referrals for many news outlets, but the users who arrive via Facebook spend far less time and consume far fewer pages than those who arrive directly. The same is true of users arriving by search. Our analysis of comScore data found visitors who go to a news media website directly spend roughly three times as long as those who wind up there through search or Facebook, and they view roughly five times as many pages per month. This higher level of engagement from direct visitors is evident whether a site’s traffic is driven by search or social sharing and it has big implications for news organizations who are experimenting with digital subscriptions while endeavoring to build a loyal audience.

Interestingly, we’re running into a unique situation in that social networks as we know them are morphing into something else just as news, content sites, and companies are figuring out how to use them for traffic back to their own sites.

In the last year, we’ve seen the rise of Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Google Now, Snapchat Discover etc. “News” is blending in with editorial content and the method of delivery based on a person’s preferences is where the money is going to flow.

If you haven’t already, check out Nuzzel and you’ll see why.

That’s because our social preferences and our media consumption preferences are coalescing in this third generation of the web. “Going to” Facebook to check our newsfeed will seem as antiquated as picking up a newspaper from a newsstand to check the day’s news. However, once newspapers started being delivered to our homes, we started viewing the news differently. The same thing is happening here with social. The news / content /info we want (and the algorithms think we need based on our bank balance, location, heart rate, travel speed, or upcoming schedule) is going to be coming to us, via messengers and notifications on our mobile devices.

Messengers are the next wave that is quickly coming to the US (already happened in much of the world outside North America just as texting, video chat etc took a while for Americans to catch on). These initiatives by Google, Facebook, Apple, Snapchat etc are a very real signal that they want to be the distributor of the content that we’ll inevitably be receiving via Facebook’s Messenger or WeChat or Whatsapp or whatever we all network shift to for our social spaces in the next 3 or so years.

What does that mean to your small business selling widgets or your nonprofit?

Everything if you’re doing any marketing on the web in 2015.

What’s Important for Your Website?

At the annual Minecraft conferences the young fans are not provided free workshops on how to play Minecraft but on “Video Creation 101″.

What will they do when they go back home?

Source: 15 Digital Marketing Trends for 2016 That Could Destroy Your Business

Last night I dreamed that I had been brought into a website redesign and new branding initiative for a large university (I know, but this is what I do for a living, so of course I’m going to have the occasional “work dream”).

The group that the university had assembled to work through the process with me was well versed in what they wanted in a web site and had no shortage of personal opinions to share and cling to (which is normally how the process starts in real life as well).

After hearing their thoughts, wishes, and concerns on everything from user interface to colors to layouts, they asked me what I had in mind. I looked at their notes and the site they wanted looked like a site that was a perfect fit for a forward looking university in 2007.

“Mobile,” I said. “80% of your traffic in the next three years will come from mobile devices with screens smaller than 5.5 inches. That’s radically different than how university (or business) websites were laid out five years ago and means that you have to rethink your opinions and wishes and start over.” (I wrote this down in my journal that I keep bedside after waking up to feed our newborn at 4 am).

I asked everyone to pull out their phones. Everyone at the table, regardless of age or “tech ability” had a smart phone of some sort (most were relatively current iPhones).

“Now, let’s design your site based on those screens. What are your favorite mobile sites? Do you have any or do you just use apps? Do you need a website? What are you trying to communicate or do with your university’s site? What’s important?”

Do the reading if you want to be treated like a professional

The reading exposes you to the state of the art. The reading helps you follow a thought-through line of reasoning and agree, or even better, challenge it. The reading takes effort.

If you haven’t done the reading, why expect to be treated as a professional?

Important thoughts from Seth Godin. Keep up with the reading, regardless of what you’re doing.

Episode 14: Thinking Out Loud 91: Homemade Root Beer – Thinking.FM

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Elisabeth is joined by UNC’s own Molly McConnell this week (Merianna is on maternity leave). They dive deep into the nature of reading, writing, and spicy beverages.

The post Thinking Out Loud 91: Homemade Root Beer appeared first on Thinking.FM.

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The Web Strikes Back

Google has actually been indexing the content of mobile applications for two years now, as a move against the search giant’s potential obsolescence as the world of computing increasingly shifted off the desktop and to take place inside native applications running on consumers’ phones. Since its launch, Google has expanded its ability to surface “deep links” (links that point to pages inside an app) from beyond a small set of early adopters on Android and now indexes applications across both major mobile platforms, iOS and Android.

Source: Google Search Now Surfaces App-Only Content, Streams Apps From The Cloud When Not Installed On Your Phone | TechCrunch

Interesting concept of “streaming apps” from Google… basically allowing people to use the functionality of native apps without having to leave the browser and / or install the actual app on their device.

Of course, not every app developer is not going to participate in this, but it does mean that Google is thinking of creative ways to keep the web (and web advertising) relevant in the app dominated present.

Quality Means More Than Quantity Even on Social Media

Sometimes we think that just putting out a consistent number of things will just create some outliers that’ll help us win. Heck, I even believed this for a long time and advised people to just focus on quantity. I don’t think that’s true anymore. Yes, we need to output things at high quantity, but we need to treat every single piece of output as the one that’ll be a breakout hit.

Source: Buffer’s Marketing Manifesto in 500 Words

Quality > Quantity despite what other social media experts might tell you.

Amazon Finally Gets 2 Factor Authentication (Please Go Turn This On For Your Account Now)

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Here’s how to enable Amazon’s Two-Step Verification, a feature that adds an extra layer of security by asking you to enter a unique security code in addition to your password on computers and devices that you haven’t designated as trusted.

Source: Amazon.com Help: Turning On Two-Step Verification

Amazon finally has 2 Step Authentication. By all means, please go turn this on (and turn on for all the services you actively use from GMail to Slack to Dropbox to Facebook to Twitter etc).

I’m a big fan of Authy as my preferred authenticator, but Google has one and you can always use your mobile device for receiving authentication texts.

But you need to do this asap for your personal and business accounts or count the days until you’re “hacked.”

Don’t Sell Out.

At some point in the past ten years, selling out lost its stigma. I come from the Kurt Cobain/“corporate rock still sucks” school where selling out was the worst thing you could ever do. We should return to that. Don’t sell out your values, don’t sell out your community, don’t sell out the long term for the short term. Do something because you believe it’s wonderful and beneficial, not to get rich. And — very important — if you plan to do something on an ongoing basis, ensure its sustainability. This means your work must support your operations and you don’t try to grow beyond that without careful planning. If you do those things you can easily maintain your independence.

Source: Resist and Thrive — Medium

As someone who runs a marketing agency but comes from the Kurt Cobain school of “not selling out” myself, I found lots to identify in this post from Kickstarter’s CEO.

We’ve lost the notion of “selling out,” or it doesn’t sting like it once did when someone accused you of such or called you a “poser.” Remember the term poser? We should bring that back.

Too often, we sell out. We lose our idealism and our independence and we trade in our soul for those things that make us a few more zeroes of digital currency.

It’s not worth it, trust me.

Be yourself, whether you’re an entrepreneur or a church or a nonprofit group.

It’s much more difficult, but it’s more rewarding (even financially).

Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

We did not anticipate anything like what has now happened. We did not foresee that all our sequence of innovations might be at once overridden by a greater one: the invention of a new kind of war that would turn our previous innovations against us, discovering and exploiting the debits and the dangers that we had ignored. We never considered the possibility that we might be trapped in the webwork of communication and transport that was supposed to make us free.

Source: Orion Magazine | Thoughts in the Presence of Fear

Wendell Berry is a modern day Amos, speaking to us in a prophetic voice that we are quick to admonish.

Although written shortly after 9/11, this essay still resonates just as the words of Amos and Hosea challenge us today.

Practice Resurrection.

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