The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy

The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy

The Auto-Service economy is coming. And as computers have increased in sophistication, as have other aspects of automation, it appears that the fundamental underpinnings of our lives are being altered.

The Twentieth Century

Consider how life was at the start of the twentieth century in the United States. Many people did not own a refrigerator. Automobiles barely existed. A trip in an airplane (excuse me, aeroplane), was an occasion for diary entries and letter-writing and was practically a media event unto itself. A lot of people lived and died within a small area.

The Rise of the Auto-Service Economy
English: The River Transformed Exhibit at the Wannalancit Mill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The economy was mainly driven by the production of goods, and by farming. Jobs existed in service industries, of course, but a lot of folks made their livelihoods in factories, steel mills, coal mines, and the like, or they stayed down on the farm.

End of the Twentieth Century

As that century ended, however, the economy had changed to more of a service model. Factory and farming jobs went to machinery and, increasingly, to robotic workers. All of these people needed to have jobs and so they changed over to service industries. In particular, as the population aged and also became wealthier, many of those service jobs migrated to the medical and hospitality industries.

However, given the rise of the internet and customers’ familiarity with tablets (and their impatience with slow, inattentive, or error-prone servers), the service economy seems to be on the cusp of changing over to what I’ll call an auto-service economy.

Humans Replaced By Robots?

Instead of getting a human at the other end of the line when calling customer service, we’re lucky if there’s a phone number at all. As I have told numerous people complaining on Able2know – you’ll never talk to a human when seeking Facebook help. Unless, of course, someone could legitimately answer your call with, “How many I help you, Mr. McCartney?”

The Boston Globe published an article about how to handle this new paradigm shift. Because it happens as we move further and further away from human interaction. We move away from service, and help, and into the realm of mechanized assistance as the norm. In Use tech to your advantage when seeking customer support, perhaps the most helpful tip they provide: mention in a never-ending customer service phone call that you want to ‘escalate‘ the problem. Evidently that’s the magic word which gets you to a supervisor.

But if the supervisor is a robot, well, you’re on your own.

Employer Access to Employee Passwords

Employer Access to Employee Passwords

Employee Passwords have become a new battleground. Because this issue has begun to crop up, and it will only continue to do so.

So does your employer have a right to your social media passwords?

Employer Access to Employee Passwords
Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So before you reflexively say no, the truth is, unless the is expressly forbids it, companies can take advantage of a less than stellar economy and less than powerful employees and demand access into social media accounts and employee passwords. As a result, a variety of bills have been introduced around the United States in an effort to address this matter.

Massachusetts

First of all, here in the Bay State, a bill was introduced in May of 2014 which would block employer access to social media passwords. Because The Boston Globe reported on this. And according to State Senator Cynthia Creem, a Democrat from Newton, who originally filed the Password Protection Act, demanding passwords as a condition of employment, “doesn’t seem acceptable.”

Louisiana

In addition, House Bill 340

“Creates the Personal Online Account Privacy Protection Act; prohibits employers and educational institutions from requesting or requiring individuals to disclose information that allows access to or observation of personal online accounts; prohibits employers and educational institutions from taking certain actions for failure to disclose information that allows access to personal online accounts; limits liability for failure to search or monitor the activity of personal online accounts.”

And this is according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

New Hampshire

Furthermore, House Bill 414, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“Relates to privacy in the workplace and legislative approval of collective bargaining agreements; prohibits an employer from requiring an employee or prospective employee to disclose his or her social media or electronic mail passwords; provides that violations by employers subjects them to a civil penalty; provides that the cost items of every collective bargaining agreement entered into by the state shall be approved by the Fiscal Committee of the General Court before each takes effect.”

Oklahoma

In addition, when it comes to employee passwords, Oklahoma’s House Bill 2372 says,

“Relates to labor; prohibits employer from requesting or requiring access to social media account of certain employees; prohibits an employer from taking retaliatory personnel action for failure to provide access to social media account; authorizes civil actions for violations; provides for recovery of attorney fees and court costs; defines terms; provides for codification; provides an effective date.”

And this is according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Rhode Island

Furthermore, House Bill 5255, per the National Conference of State Legislatures, “Establishes a social media privacy policy for students and employees.”

Employer Access to Employee Passwords
English: Great seal of the state of Rhode Island Français : Sceau du Rhode Island (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Tennessee

In addition, Tennessee’s Senate Bill 1808, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“Creates the Employee Online Privacy Act of 2014 which prevents an employer from requiring an employee to disclose the username and password for the employee’s personal internet account except under certain circumstances.”

Wisconsin

And then in Wisconsin, State Bill 223, per the National Conference of State Legislatures,

“Relates to employer access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of employees and applicants for employment; [and] relates to educational institution access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of students and prospective students;
and “relates to landlord access to, and observation of, the personal Internet accounts of tenants and prospective tenants; provides a penalty.”.

Other States

In addition, Maryland became apparently the first state to consider the matter, per the Boston Globe, in 2012. Furthermore, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, several bills have been proposed around the country. However, aside from the ones listed above, only the following states have these laws. Except for Massachusetts, which pended at the first writing of this blog post. Otherwise, all were enacted in 2014. Furthermore, these laws prohibit employers from gaining access to employees’ social media account passwords. I list them by the year the protection was enacted:

  • 2012 – California, Delaware, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and New Jersey
  • 2013 – Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Vermont (provides for a study only) and Washington

Finally, the country still has a long way to go in terms of guaranteeing employees privacy in social media accounts. Hence we all need to look out more. In addition, it might end up a good idea to just out and out refuse when asked for passwords.

Facebooker, beware.

When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms

When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms

When NOT to Post on Social Media Platforms? Timing, as you might expect, is everything when it comes to posting on social media platforms. After all, if you, say, tweet when your audience is sleeping, they won’t see your tweet. It’ll be lost in the mountain of missed social media communications.

Social Media Landscape - Social Media Platforms
Social Media Landscape (Photo credit: fredcavazza)

We all have such a mountain of missed communications and connections. Social media just moves way too quickly for us to see, comment on, share, and experience everything. We’re only human, and of course that’s fine. Your mission, though, is to post when your audience will be around, not when they’ll be offline, or busy with work, or settled into bed for the night.

Zzzz AKA La La La I Can’t Hear You!

According to Kate Rinsema of AllTop (Guy Kawasaki‘s great site), the following are the most godawful worst times to post.

  • Facebook – midnight to 8 AM
  • Google+ – 6 PM to 8 AM
  • Instagram – midnight to 8 AM
  • LinkedIn – 9 AM to 5 PM
  • Pinterest – 1 to 7 AM and 5 – 7 PM
  • Tumblr – 12 AM to 12 PM
  • Twitter – 8 PM – 8 AM

But pay attention to your audience. Maybe their night owls. Maybe they live on the other side of the planet.

I’m Here and I’m Listening

These are reportedly the best times to post on social media platforms:

  • Facebook – 1 to 4 PM
  • Google+ – 9 AM to 11 AM
  • Instagram – 5 PM to 6 PM
  • LinkedIn – 5 PM to 6 PM
  • Pinterest – 8 PM to 11 PM
  • Tumblr – 7 PM to 10 PM
  • Twitter – 1 PM to 3 PM

What About Different Time Zones?

Articles like this often vex me, because there usually isn’t any consideration taken when it comes to customers, readers, and audience crossing time zones.

My suggestion is to take these times as your own, for your own time zone, unless your audience is on the other side of the Earth. Try for some wiggle room, e. g. if you’re on the East Coast of the United States, like I am, you might want to time things for later during the window if you’re aiming for an audience pretty much only in America. But for a European audience, you should aim for earlier in the window but recognize that, with a minimal five-hour difference, you might not hit the window perfectly.

Or, you could set at least your tweets to run more than once. If you do this, though, I suggest spreading them apart by a day, say, posting post #1 on Monday at the start of the window, and post #2 at the end, and then switching them on Wednesday or the like.  But repeating other postings is probably going to be overkill for your audience. Try using the #ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) tag when repeating your posts.

Caveat marketer.

Book Review: Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Vaynerchuk

"Book

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook is a bit too cleverly named, but the premise is an interesting one. Essentially, what Gary Vaynerchuk is saying is, little bits of content and engagement which reach your potential customers are the setup for the big finish (which is not really a finish, actually) of a call to action and an attempt to make a sale.

The other major premise of the book is that all platforms have their own native quirks and idiosyncrasies. Therefore what is reliable on Pinterest, might fall flat on Facebook. What is killer on Tumblr might get a shrug on Instagram. And what is awesome on Twitter might bring the meh elsewhere.

Breaking Down What Went Wrong, and What Went Right

The most powerful part of this work was in the analysis and dissection of various real-life pieces of content on the various platforms. Why did something not work? Maybe the image was too generic or too small or too blurry. Or maybe the call to action was too generic and wishy-washy, or the link did not take the user directly to the page with the sales information or coupon. Or maybe there was no link or no logo, and the user was confused or annoyed.

While this book was assigned for my Community Management class, the truth is, I can also see it as applying to the User-Centered Design course at Quinnipiac. After all, a big part of good user-centric design is to not confuse or annoy the user. Vaynerchuk is looking to take that a step further, and surprise and delight the consumer.

Give people value. So give them what they want and need, or that at least makes them smile or informs them. In the meantime, show your humanity and your concern.

And work your tail off.

A terrific read. Everyone in this field should read this book.

Rating

5/5 Stars

Social Media Balance

Social Media Balance

Social media balance is sometimes elusive. Yet much like everything else, social media needs to be balanced. Too much, and you’ll alienate your readers. And too little, and they’ll wonder if you’re still alive.

I’ll confine my comments to just blogging, Facebook and Twitter. Of course there are other outlets, but let’s just look at those three.

Too Much

social media balance
CHRISTMAS MUSIC (Photo credit: Zellaby)

During the 2012 Christmas season here in Boston, the oldies station began broadcasting all-day Christmas music early. How early? And it was, if I am recalling correctly, before Veterans’ Day. Egad, it was awful. And then of course other radio stations began their regular broadcast of holiday music. So it was very hard to get away from it all.

Now, lots of these songs are lovely. This is not me slamming religion – don’t misunderstand me. Rather, it was just … c’mon already! Because it was way too much!

It was not festive. Instead, it annoyed. And the same can be said of social media. If you’re a small outlet, a tiny company, a Mom and Pop operation, here’s a little secret. You don’t need to constantly tweet and update Facebook.

Reasons why you shouldn’t overdo it

  • You’ll oversaturate the people you’re trying to endear, and they’ll turn off to your message.
  • And you’ll burn out.
  • You’ll run out of things to say.

Not Enough

It continually amuses me when people say something like, “I have a blog.” And they’ll post

Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Fr... social media balance
Facebook logo Español: Logotipo de Facebook Français : Logo de Facebook Tiếng Việt: Logo Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

their link. However, the last time they updated was 13 months ago, or more, or they’ve never updated. Or it’s a Twitter stream with three tweets, and the account is over a year old. Maybe they have a Facebook page with nearly nothing on it.

Given the number of abandoned accounts, and the number of deceased persons’ accounts on Facebook and the like, followers might be wondering. Have you gone to the great computer room in the sky?

Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Underdo It

  • Your readers will leave you, big time. They may be loyal but today’s audiences are also pretty fickle. You’re no longer shiny and new. So they leave.
  • Google still indexes abandoned accounts, although the information is out of date. And it can sometimes end up making you look worse than not having a social media presence at all.
  • You show, essentially, that you no longer care about your subject matter. So why should anyone read what you write at all, if even you don’t believe in it?

Balance

It’s rather Zen, I suppose, to seek a balance here.

social media balance
zen (Photo credit: mkebbe)

But how do you get it?

The easiest way is to consider the people who you follow where you just love their updates. They don’t seem forced or rushed, and they seem to come in, just at the right time.

Don’t think of really big wigs in social media, like George Takei, Shama Hyder Kabani, Wil Wheaton, Guy Kawasaki, Ashton Kutcher,

Shama Kabani social media balance
Shama Kabani (Photo credit: bjmccray)

etc. Instead, consider your friends, colleagues, and neighbors, even if it’s people who aren’t making (or trying to make) a career out of social media.

Look at their Facebook walls and their Twitter streams and their blogs. What is it about those outlets that grabs you?

By the way, recognize that a person might be really good at one form of balance, but not at another. That’s not unexpected, as these are all rather different forms of media.

Reasons Why You Should Strike a Balance

  • Posting too much at the beginning can lead directly to posting pretty much nothing later on, so spread things out over time, and you can avoid both issues simultaneously.

Schedule Those Suckers

  • If you’re really inspired and have a lot to say, that’s great! But unless it’s time-sensitive, use the scheduling features of programs like HootSuite. Or try Facebook’s own post scheduling feature. WordPress and Blogger both allow you to save drafts and schedule them to publish when you want them to.
  • Spreading the wealth over time will assure your readers that you’re not just some flash in the pan. It will also assure them that you’re still among the living.
  • Too many posts means that many of them get lost in the shuffle. Too few means that they can loom large, and maybe seem more important than you think they should be. Spread the wealth, and you can avoid both problems.

One more thing about social media balance. While Tweeting, Facebooking, etc. should be mindful, it should also be kinda fun. Overdoing it means that you’re probably spending too much time online. While underdoing it probably means that it no longer interests you that much.

Consider what either of those scenarios means to you. Because social media balance matters.

Social Networking/Social Media Tips

Social Networking/Social Media Tips

Social Media Tips? Yes, please! A while back, Grassroots Giving Group published some great Social Networking tips. I agreed with their ideas but would like to expand upon them a bit.

English: A pie chart created in Excel 2007 sho... Social Media Tips
English: A pie chart created in Excel 2007 showing the content of tweets on Twitter, based on the data gathered by Pear Analytics in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And they were essentially exploring when Facebook and Twitter are useful. Here are some of their ideas.

Ideas

  • Announcements – don’t just announce upcoming or new things but also add links in order to drive traffic. Agreed! However, I would add a targeted landing page. If you’ve got people coming in from Facebook, why not create a new landing page to personally welcome them (e. g. Welcome to our Facebook Friends!). The best part about that is that, since it’s a separate page, Google Analytics will track the clicks separately. You’ve got a fighting chance of getting good metrics, so you’ll know whether your announcement of the opening of a new branch of the Widget Factory played better on Facebook or on Twitter.
  • Sending shortened website addresses on Twitter – use an URL shortener. Of course! But why not use one (such as from HootSuite or Social Oomph) where you can get some click metrics? Using both a personalized landing page and an URL with click metrics can give you an even clearer idea of how traffic flows. Oh, and they don’t tell you why you should shorten an URL on Twitter (even if the URL fits), but I will: to make it easier for people to retweet.

Planning

  • Planning in Advance – nothing new here. You should keep up with things and plan in advance. Absolutely. And that means, when you’re hot and creative, write, write, write! Keep drafts and ideas going, and also think about how you can expand on your own blog entries or others’ (such as this blog entry). Get yourself a stable of other blogs/blog writers, news sources, etc. Who inspires you? Who interests you? And don’t repeat or steal, of course. Rather, expand and comment. These are perfectly legitimate ways to update your blog.
  • This Day in History – Commemorate occasions in your company! There must be something you’ve done that is good blog fodder. Of course, not every day is memorable, but it’s another way to keep the pipeline going. If July 12th is an important day in your organization, make sure that the July 12th blog post and Tweets are ready to rock and roll, and they are updated to the correct year. Heck, in HootSuite and SocialOomph (mentioned above), you can schedule Tweets. Why not schedule the Tweets for July 12th (or whatever your special day just so happens to be) and be done with them?

Quotes

  • Quote Collection – I like this idea, and I think it can be used for a lot of purposes. This is not only quotes about your specific organization or its work, but even more generalized quotations. Surely there is something from Shakespeare (My Kingdom for a horse!) or the Bible that could work for you in some capacity or another. It can be another jumping off point for creativity.
  • Ask Your Audience Questions – I think this is more useful if you have a somewhat large and actively commenting readership. While a rhetorical question is lovely, I think it’s just better if you can get at least a little feedback. Otherwise, it feels like you’re just shouting out to the wilderness.
  • Staff Introductions – this is another great idea. While your site might already have staff biographies, that’s another way to get the readership acquainted with who’s making the product.

Notes From Your Day

  • Notes from Your Day – I don’t know about this one. Your day, maybe. Mine? I guess this is, in part, centered around the event reviews I’ve done. But otherwise, my days tend to be spent, well, here, blogging. Which may or may not be thrilling to others. But I can see where my coworkers could have some very interesting days. The process of invention is pretty fascinating.

So there you have it. Some pretty amazing ideas for getting and keeping things going. And, while the post wasn’t, specifically, about blogging, it rings very true for that very specific – and sometimes challenging and elusive – task.

Finally, many, many thanks to the Grassroots Giving Group.

For more information, see the December 16, 2010 edition of Grassroots Giving Group.com’s blog.

Are You Promoting Your Writing With Social Media?

Promoting Writing With Social Media

Promoting Writing is important! So let’s say you’re an amateur writer. You know you should be promoting writing with social media. But how do you get started?

Not to worry; I’ve got you covered, whether you’re looking to sell your work or just get your unsellable fanfiction noticed.

My Background

I have my Masters’ degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University. I blog, tweet, and go to Facebook pretty much every day. And I did all of that for grades and now for work.

Promoting Writing With Social Media
English: Infographic on how Social Media are being used, and how everything is changed by them. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Furthermore, I have been in the social media space for years, long before the term was even so much as coined. I go back to Usenet.

Getting Started

So it may be tempting to just plunge right in and start hyping your work on Facebook or Twitter or the like. After all, everyone else is doing it, right? It seems so easy. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s free. But I want you to take a step backward because we are going to do some basic strategizing. It’s called the POST Strategy.

P is for Personas

A persona, or a buyer persona, is the person who would typically buy your work. This is demographics, generally including gender, age range, and race. It can include highest educational level attained. It can also include marital status or sexual identity, time zone, and sometimes household income.

I know you don’t have the bucks to hire a team to build a demographic profile. That’s okay. You’re more or less covered online, if you don’t mind some vagueness.

In 2013, Pew Research investigated who in America is reading. You can also pull related data, such as this study on gaming. Google, as is often the case, is your friend.

Once you’ve got your general demographics together, write a short thumbnail sketch of a biography of them. E. g.

Steve loves science fiction as he enjoys the escapism elements. He’s in his thirties and lives in a small town where he has a technical job. Unmarried, Steve wants to escape into the strange worlds that are a staple of science fiction. Because Steve is bi, and he’s in a small town where that might seem strange to his neighbors, he is semi-closeted. He wants to read about people like him or more or less like him. He enjoys action and adventure but doesn’t mind some romance in the storyline so long as it’s not dominant.

This is a description of your ideal reader. That person might be a lot like you. They might turn out not to be. Plus you might find more than one persona. That’s okay, too.

O is for Objectives

We’ve all got pie in the sky notions, where we want to be recognized for our art, published, get an agent, make a mint, and hobnob with the best writers we can think of. Or maybe that’s just me. But you’ve got to be realistic here.

What’s realistic? Breaking even, on a first novel, is probably not realistic. But selling at least one copy to someone you do not personally know? That’s a good, attainable goal. It may not sound like a lot, but you start this way.

And do some measuring, in order to know you met your objectives. Amazon shows sales data, and many places show read counts even if you aren’t publishing for $$ at this time. I personally use spreadsheets but I’ve got a data analysis background so this appeals to me. You don’t need to go nuts! You can get by with just vague ideas, such as to see that sales have gone up, or you haven’t broken 1,000 reads, that sort of thing.

S is for Strategy

What’s your plan? First of all, allow me to suggest one thing right off the top – get HootSuite or Tweetdeck or Buffer or some combination and learn how to use their scheduling features. Don’t be tweeting in the middle of the night. So schedule stuff. Trust me; scheduling will save your offline life.

T is for Technology

So now let’s start thinking about platforms. And do some more research (Pew is awesome!). Where is your buyer persona going online?

Our mythological buyer persona, Steve, is fairly young and male. I bet he likes Tumblr and Twitter. Plus he’s on Facebook because many people are. While he might be on Pinterest (it’s not 100% female), the likelihood is greater that he’s elsewhere.

So what’s your mission? To post your promotional links where Steve is. Maybe Betty. Or Lakeisha. Perhaps Hong. Or José. And change up to reach whoever your buyer persona is.

Want to know more about POST Strategy? Go to the source!

More Information

However, this barely scratches the surface when it comes to promoting writing. Because there’s a ton more to know! Where can you get started? I just so happen to have a book for that. And it also just so happens to be free. Ask me anything, here or on Wattpad in the comments for that book. Am I missing something? And do you want anything updated or clarified? I gladly take requests to update the Social Media Guide.

Now go out there and knock ’em dead!

The Power of Social Media (Neurotic Writers’ Edition)

The Power of Social Media (Neurotic Writers’ Edition)

Chicken Scratch

Neurotic Writers. I know aspiring writers.

You probably do, too. There are lots of people with a Adventures in Career Changing | Janet Gershen-Siegel | Quill | Neurotic Writersmanuscript out there … somewhere. Perhaps it’s just in a hard drive. Or maybe it’s been uploaded to a fiction site. Or perhaps it has gotten a little exposure by having a chapter or a tantalizing fragment tossed onto a forums site. It might take the form of a blog (Gee, I wonder if I’m doing that …?). There are some that are typed (Remember that?). Others are only in long hand. And still others are locked away in brain form only.

Attention Monsters, All

Neurotic Writers
Social Media Iceberg (Photo credit: Intersection Consulting)

Whatever form it has taken, there is one thing I have learned about aspiring writers (And this includes fan fiction writers, by the way. Don’t dis ’em; they care about what they do, too!). This may also be true of established writers as well. I’m not even so sure where “established” starts happening. If it starts when you’ve gotten a check for writing, then count me in the established camp. If not, well, then it might be that I am still waiting for my established writer card. But I digress. What have I learned about aspiring writers?

It’s that we are all attention monsters.

We all crave attention. But it’s more than just “Look at me! Look at me!” Instead, it’s more like, “Please oh please oh please read my stuff and leave detailed feedback so I know you really read it and don’t forget to tell me how kick-bun awesome I am!

Er, yeah.

Now, pretty much everyone on the planet adores hugs and positive attention and love and happiness. For aspiring writers, though, it’s poured onto a page. The soul is naked, for all to poke at (Erm, that wasn’t meant to evoke an NC-17 image. Shame on you for thinking so. And now that’s all you can think of, am I right?). It is scary and it is daunting. And it is exhilarating when you get even a scrap of positive feedback.

Enter Social Media

For aspiring writers with a backbone and a somewhat thicker skin, social media can be a way to get some of that craved feedback.

How?

The first and probably most obvious method is to have a Twitter stream dedicated to your writing. I doubt that most people want to read about writer’s block, so you need to have something going on. Perhaps you could write about inspirations, or earlier works, or how things fit together in your universe.

Hence I am also talking about a blog. You can blog about writing. The creative process can be fascinating for people who are into it. Maybe you’d like to review your own work, and comment on what you’ve learned, and how you’ve grown as an author. Put both of these together, and you’ve got a pretty dynamic combination. You write, you blog about it and then you tweet about your blog posts and your writing.

Plus writing begets writing. Even blog writing (which is a rather different animal from book-writing) can help keep writer’s block at bay. It helps to exercise these muscles fairly regularly.

Another Option?

Post on social sites. Hence for fan fiction, there is Fanfiction.net. And for purely original stories, they have a sister site, Fiction Press. Or try Wattpad. In addition, plenty of more specialized fiction and fan fiction sites exist. Google is your friend!

Be aware of scams; they do exist. Furthermore, putting your work out there does not guarantee that you retain full rights to it. And this is despite the laws in your own country. In addition, understand there’s a lot of plagiarism and downright theft out there. So remain as cautious as with any other information you put online.

Understand, too, that if you neurotic writers are going to submit to a traditional publisher, they often don’t want you to have posted your story elsewhere beforehand. Because this has to do with the full rights to your product. Hence you might want to put out your smaller or less important works, and save your really big one, if you are ever planning to submit to a traditional publishing house.

Competitions

Yet another option is competitions. Here’s one, at America’s Next Author. Because the inspiration from this blog post came from learning that a friend had a story in this competition. The competition ran as a pure social media experiment. Hence, while good storytelling and story-crafting matter, so does publicity. Like with any other social media site, “likes”, comments and popularity all play a role. For my friend, and for others trying to make it, putting the link onto Facebook or Twitter is essential to getting the word out. Even this blog post is helpful (FYI, and just for the record, this post is my own idea and she did not request or suggest it).

The Reader End of Things

The community of aspiring writers is, truly, a community. And that means give and take. What kind of give and take? The kind that goes along with reviews and comments. Because for those who are trying to write for a living, commenting and reviewing should be a part of that. Readily and cheerfully provide constructive criticism, if desired.

Aspiring neurotic writers write for exposure. And often they get exposure from fellow aspirants. What better way to forge a sense of community than to read one another’s works, and comment thereon?

The Upshot of It All

For those of us neurotic writers who put it out there every day, who bare ourselves and our souls with prose or poetry, fiction or nonfiction, fan or wholly original, short story or multi-novel series, we all have a major issue in common – we want recognition. We don’t even necessarily want to be famous, but we want to be the one at the fireside who spins a yarn as others sit, enraptured. And with social media, we hope, there just might be some people listening.

CLUMPS of SEO

CLUMPS of SEO

CLUMPS is an ugly acronym and I apologize profusely for that. But if you want to build and promote a website and improve your SEO (Search Engine Optimization), you should think in CLUMPS.

CLUMPS of SEO
A clump of day lilies

What are CLUMPS?

I will explain.

Content

C stands for Content, and Content is King. Don’t believe me? Try looking at a site – any site – and picture it instead as a framework with lorem ipsum written all over it. Kinda silly, eh?

How to Search Engine Optimization
How to Search Engine Optimization (Photo credit: SEOPlanter)

So, people need something to read. Or listen to. Or download. Maybe to play. Or discuss. Or purchase. And it could be any other of a number of things that they would want to do with a website. And they need it from you! So make up your mind as to what you want. Plan your content and work on it. Brainstorm what you want to cover, and keep records of that. This helps when the rubber really meets the road and you get writer’s block.

For Instance

For example, let’s say you want to create an episode guide for the old television show, Quantum Leap. The show aired 97 episodes. If you post a new episode every single day, you run out out of content in less than three and a half months. If you instead post twice per week, that covers 48 and a half weeks – almost a full year. Good, but what do you do after that?

So there are a few options. One is to post less frequently. Another is to churn up the content and repost it. However, what you could also branch out. Therefore, post about the actors’ work before and since the show aired. And cover convention appearances. Add photographs. Post or critique fan fiction. Open up the floor for discussions of the show’s philosophy. Maybe you can find a related show to write about, and compare it to the original. It doesn’t matter. Just, recognize that your content might have a finite end to it, so you’ll need to work on extending that.

Furthermore, it can also help to look around the online world. What do others say about your topic? Make a Google Alert for your topic or, better yet, make several, with variations. Follow the news and see what you can comment on. Don’t copy others’ work outright, but commenting on it, linking to it, and expanding on it are all fair game. Always, always, always link back! Speaking of links ….

Links

L stands for Links. You’ve got to get your link out there, and have it linked back to by other sites. Now is not the time to keep it to yourself.

This does not mean spamming! Rather, you need to launch a bit of a campaign. Find like-minded individuals and ask for them to link to you. Offer to link to them in return. Now, it’s better if you’re linked to by pages with good, large followings. How do you find these sites? One way is to do a search on the backlinks for your closest competition. Who’s linking to them? And target those sites.

And be patient! Rising in search results takes some time, although you can promote yourself by buying search, if you like, by using Google AdWords. But if you don’t have a budget to buy listings, don’t worry.You can still have good external visibility. What matters is not being number one. What does matter is getting onto somewhere on the top three pages of search results and then working from there. Of course, the higher the better. But the difference between page 100 and page 1000 of search results is a moot one.

Usability

U stands for Usability. If people cannot find what they are looking for, if your site is slow and unresponsive, or you’re just missing too many vital things, people may come, but they will not stay.

Case in point. I spent some time a few years ago investigating linking certain nursing job sites to various places where backlinks would be welcome. I did research, and of course nursing schools are a prime potential source of backlinks.

However, for some colleges, finding the link to either their nursing school or their placement office was akin to searching a hay field for sewing implements. I had, more than once, to resort to searching on Google rather than inside a particular school’s own pages, in order to find what I wanted. Sometimes, the pages were poorly named or written (e. g. placement office pages which didn’t have the word “jobs” anywhere in sight). Others had too many unrelated or poorly related or obscure keywords (e. g. referring to such an office as the painfully generic  “Student Services”).

It would have been far better to make sure that these pages were dense with correct words that people would use when searching, such as jobs, placement, careers, employment or internships.

Search Issues

Other sites had what I wanted but were painfully slow (that was often a server issue). Or the web developer was so in love with flash that the site has pretty scrolling pictures but it was hard to find where I was actually supposed to be clicking.

So look over your site. Or, better yet, have others do so. And find out from them what works, and what doesn’t. It’s not an occasion for them to tear you down or give you unstinting praise. Rather, it’s an occasion for you to learn what works, and what doesn’t.

Formal Checks

And for formal investigations, try using A/B testing methodologies. A/B testing means essentially serving up one version of a site to one person, and another version to another. And then you check their click behaviors. If these are people you know, talk to them. The difference between the “A” and the “B” versions of a page can be as small as a new color for the background or a different location for the logo versus a complete site overhaul. But it’s the smallest changes that are the easiest to process. Make small changes before you commit to larger ones.

This also goes into the idea of keywords. Keyword stuffing is, of course, a black hat strategy, and it’s the last thing you want to do. But white hat strategy isn’t just setting up a site for the benefit of search engines – it’s also setting it up for the benefit of people.

Metrics

M is for Metrics. If you’re going to do A/B testing, or if you care about whether anyone is visiting your site, you need to start looking at all of that. The best and easiest to use such analytical site is Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides all sorts of data, everything from which is the most popular page on your site to how long users are hanging around. Like many other things, take a little time and get to know the program but also allow it to gather some data. You aren’t going to get a terribly good picture of your site in a month. You need to let this percolate for a while.

Promotions

P is for Promotions. Again, I never advocate spamming. However, I do suggest that you put your link out there via your own Twitter stream, your own Facebook account, via Reddit and Stumbleupon, etc. For this hypothetical Quantum Leap site, you might want to find like-minded tweeters using a service like Triberr. You could look up science fiction, or television nostalgia, etc. and join tribes (groups of tweeters) with similar interests who would be likely to retweet your content. Use HootSuite or a Google Alert to run regular keyword searches on Twitter for various related terms. For people who are using those terms, they might have an affinity for what you’re doing. Perhaps you can follow them, and see if they will follow you back. And if they are reading your tweets, they are seeing your links. Look for reasonable hashtags and follow them, and start using them.

Check Your Metrics

But check Google Analytics after a while, and budget your time accordingly. If most of your time and effort are going into Twitter, but you get most of your readers from Facebook, you may need to rethink your Twitter strategy. Or, you could even try dropping it for a while, and only concentrating on Facebook.

Again, this is an exercise in patience. These things do take time, particularly if you have a shoestring budget and are essentially only using free services. For not paying, you will need to, instead, invest time.

Shiny New Stuff

S is for Shiny New Stuff. What I mean is, sites that stay the same, year in, year out, are just not that interesting. Plus, things change. Development proceeds at a far rapider pace than most of us know. Take a look at what’s out there, and see if making some changes will help.

For me, I started off creating a site completely from scratch, using HTML. I wanted to learn the language as well as possible, on my own. However, one area where I certainly needed help was in aesthetics. This went on for a couple of years as I had a site with good content, I was working on promotions and garnering linkbacks, and I was keeping it usable and was checking metrics.

I eventually moved the site to WordPress, and used their templates (the content, of course, is wholly my own). The site looks better and functions better. It also gives it a newer look. Plus WordPress fixes a lot of issues with key words. So long as your post is on point and mentions the keywords you want to tout, those key words will be in the page, and will be searchable by Google’s spiders.

Upshot

CLUMPS is still a lousy acronym. But I hope you’ll find it continues to hold true. The way to get your site out there, noticed and loved, is to make it as good a site as possible. Consider the sites you love. What they look like, how they work, what content they deliver and how they keep things fresh and interesting. Follow the metrics for your own site but take a leaf from those other sites’ pages. Not to out and out copy, of course, but rather to be inspired. And you can make your own quantum leap to better SEO.

CLUMPS of SEO
Quantum Leap

Supporting Indie Authors

Supporting Indie Authors

Supporting Indie Authors – do you do it?

I am published, and one issue that comes up, time and again, concerns how people can go about supporting indie authors. In particular, friends and family far removed from the business of writing or social media or public relations or marketing or the like still want to help out.

And for the writers, who may feel strange suggesting or requesting such support, I hope this little guide can do just that. Instead of asking, perhaps they can simply point to this blog post.

The #1 Way You Can Support An Independent Author

This one’s easy. Buy their book! Which version? Any version!

However, authors might get better percentages of the take with a particular format. If that is the case, and you don’t mind which format you purchase, you can always ask your friend the writer. While we always want you to buy the book (and a sale beats out no sale), if we have our druthers and it really makes a difference, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.

The #2 Way To Support Independent Authors

Supporting Indie Authors
Untrustworthy by JR Gershen-Siegel

So once you’ve bought the book, a fantastic way of supporting indie authors even more is to provide an honest review. Amazon, Smashwords, and many publisher sites provide a means of reviewing novels and other creative works. Be sure to review where you purchased the book. Why? Because then you can be listed with verified purchase next to your name. This adds considerably more credibility to your review (and some places require it now).

The Sum and Substance of Your Review

What should you say in your review? If you loved the book, say so. If it was a decent read but not your cup of tea, say that as well, as it’s honest, fair, and remains supportive. After all, not everyone loves the same thing. If you’re not in the demographic group the work is aimed at, then no problem. You gave it the old college try and that’s just fantastic. The longer the review then, generally, the better. Specific references to events in the book, without giving away spoilers, really help. E. g. something like: I loved the character of ___. She was believably vulnerable.

Negative Reviews

What if you hated the book? Should you lie? Absolutely not – and, I might add, don’t lie even if the author has specifically asked for positive reviews only (an unethical request, by the way). However, if the book stinks (I’ve read books that have made me want to burn people’s computers, they were so horrible, so I know exactly where you’re coming from), then you have the following options:

  1. Don’t post the review at all, and say nothing to the author.
  2. Don’t post the review at all, but mention it to the author. However be prepared for, potentially, some negative push-back, in particular if that person specifically requested just positive reviews. You can sweeten the pot by offering some other assistance (see below for other things you can do to help).
  3. Post a short review. Reviews don’t have to be novel-length! You can always write something like Interesting freshman effort from indie author ____ (the writer’s name goes in the blank). There ya go. Short, semi-sweet, and you’re off the hook. Unless the book utterly bored you, the term interesting works. If the book was absolutely the most boring thing you have ever read, then you can go with valiant or unique (so long as the work isn’t plagiarized) instead of interesting. Yes, you have just damned with faint praise. But sometimes faint praise is the only kind you can give out.

Really going negative

  1. Post a negative review. However, be prepared for your friendship to, potentially, end. Yet is that the worst thing, ever? I’m not saying to be mean. Don’t be mean and don’t take potshots at a person’s character or personality. This is about the book and not about your relationship with the person (although it can sometimes turn into that. But keep the review about the creative work only). However, if the friendship means more to you, then seriously consider options #1 or #2 instead.

Furthermore, many sites have star systems. Adding stars (even a single star) is helpful as this signals to readers that there is at least some interest in the piece.

The #3 Way to Support an Independent Author

Post and/or share the links to either the creative work or the author’s website, blog, Facebook Author page, or Amazon Author page, onto social media. This method is free and anyone can do it. This means tweets, Facebook shares, Pinterest repinnings, or Tumblr rebloggings. Plus it’s clicking ‘like’ on Instagram, voting up a book trailer on YouTube or adding it to a playlist, mentioning the book in your status on LinkedIn, or sharing the details with your circles on Google+, and more. Every time you provide these sorts of social signals to social media sites, the content goes to more people and you are supporting indie authors. Without spending a dime, and barely lifting a finger, you can provide a great deal of help.

The #4 Way to Support Independent Authors

Be sure to follow your friends’ Amazon Author pages, and their blogs. Hit ‘like’ on their Facebook Author pages and follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc. There are agents who give more weight to indies with larger social media followings. You can hate the book but still follow the author.

You can also work some magic in person. Show up to any signings or discussions, even if you just drink coffee and don’t participate. Ask for the book at your local library or bookstore. Read the paper version in public (train stations are really great for that sort of thing). And you can also talk to your friends, or email them about the work. Consider your audience, and don’t just spam your friends. However if your writer pal has written, say, a Christian-themed love story, then how about sending the link to your friend who has a son studying to be a pastor?

If your friend is local, try contacting your local paper and asking if they’d do a profile on the writer. They can always say no, but sometimes reporters are hunting around for short feel-good locally-specific blurbs. It never hurts to ask.

The #5 Way to Support an Independent Author

Here’s where it gets to be a time investment. Help them. A lot of serious authors ask questions about all manner of things, in order to perform proper research. Can you help with that? Do you have personal experience, or are you good at Googling?

You can also act as a beta reader when you’re supporting indie authors. Beta readers read either the entire draft or a portion of it or sometimes just the first chapter or even character bios. Here’s where you can be a lot freer with criticism, as this is all private. Is the mystery too easy to solve? The character names are confusing? Or the protagonist isn’t described clearly? The scenario is improbable? Then tell the writer. This isn’t correcting their grammar or their spelling (although it sometimes can be). Instead, this is giving them valuable feedback which will help them become better.

As always, be kind. This is your friend’s baby, after all. But if you can’t tell the difference between Susan and Suzanne in the story, then other readers probably wouldn’t be able to, either. Better that that is fixed before the book is released, than afterwords.

Final Thoughts on Supporting Indie Authors

The life of a writer can be a rather topsy-turvy one. You’re high on good reviews, and then you get one bad one and it depresses you. You write like the wind for weeks, and then you edit it and it feels like it’s garbage. Or you get writer’s block, or life gets in the way.

Sometimes the best thing you can do, as a friend, is to just listen, and be there.