Monthly Archives: August 2010

People Are Desperate to Care About Something. Is It You?

NOTE: This post was originally written as a guest post for Jim Kukral, whose book Attention: This Book Will Make You Money features a prominent excerpt from my blog post “Stop Trying to Monetize What Isn’t Interesting.”

You have a product or a service to sell.  Maybe it’s a widget.  Maybe it’s a cause.

Maybe it’s you.

But why should anyone care?

Well, let’s start with something people do care about:

Birds.

Dead Pelicans Equal Cheap Media Buys

Tyler Cowen, who writes the deft economics blog Marginal Revolution, recently posted some sobering statistics about the estimated numbers of birds killed by the BP oil spill:

Number of birds killed by the BP oil spill: at least 2,188 and counting.

Number of birds killed by wind farms: 10,000-40,000 annually.

Number of birds killed by cars: 80 million annually.

Number of birds killed by cats: Hundreds of millions to 1 billion annually.

So why are we so inundated with images of (and concern for) spill-related bird deaths when the numbers of non-spill-related bird deaths are so much higher?

Because we have pictures of those birds, which makes them specific.

As Dan Ariely, author of the book Predictably Irrational, explains on his blog:

First, it is a singular event with a precise beginning. Second, while the tragedy was ongoing (and we are not yet sure if it has ended or not) it seemed to become more desperate by the day. Third, we have a single organization that we can villainize… And fourth, the Gulf is so much closer to home (at least for Americans).

So, in order to generate more public interest in a statistically marginal event (at least in terms of pure numbers), our frustration at the Gulf oil spill has been maximized by:

  • Specificity
  • Simplicity
  • Visual reference
  • Raw emotion
  • Relatability
  • Proximity
  • “Heroes” and “villains,” and
  • A ticking clock

In other words, the Gulf spill “works” because it’s a marketable issue.  (Or, seen another way, as a classic stage drama with a three-act structure.)

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of birds killed by traffic or windmills aren’t nearly as concise — or as easily-simplified — of an issue, which makes it much harder to convince us that those tragedies are somehow even more worth our attention.

How Does This Translate to Business?

Simple:

People are human.  We all want to care about things we recognize as being important.  And, even better, we want to engage in situations where we have a chance to make a difference.

If you’re passionate about a cause, how can you encapsulate that passion in one image that tells your story?

If you’re passionate about your business, how can you distill that passion into one answer to a question that’s on everyone else’s mind?

People are desperate to find things worth caring about.

But it’s up to you to make it easy for them.

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3 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Chronic Underachiever

I recently had an epiphany: the busier I am, the happier I am.

That’s not just because more work = more profit.  It’s because I’m slowly understanding an element of my own personality that I’ve never taken seriously.

I’m a lazy workaholic.

What I mean by that is:

  • I multitask.
  • I procrastinate.
  • I love collaboration.
  • I enjoy being involved in numerous projects.
  • I respond best to a variety of ever-changing stimuli.
  • I work best under pressure.

In other words, the more I’m doing — and the more different things I’m doing — the happier I am because I feel more active, engaged and fulfilled.  (I’m just habitually unable to get ahead of schedule.  Must have something to do with my undying love of naps…)

This is partly because I hold myself to a high standard.  I have great expectations for my own success, and I know I’m capable of accomplishing much more than I usually do.  When I don’t, I often feel like I’m wasting my own time and potential, and that causes me to re-evaluate, refocus and redefine what I’m really passionate about.

Granted, your work style may differ completely from mine.  You may be happiest when you only have one task to focus on — or even none.  But if you occasionally feel like you could (or should) be doing more, here are 3 ways I’ve found to keep myself more engaged, energized and focused on the sum total of my own life.

1.  Go Out of Your Way to Meet Interesting People.

In high school and college, everybody is interesting because everybody is new.  You’re still figuring out the “types” of people there are in the world, and because so many of your experiences are shared in groups (classmates, roommates, coworkers, family), the collective memories of your actions resonate big and loud in your subconscious.

And then you graduate, and you get a real job, and finding new stimuli becomes a chore.

These days, I freelance, which means I could go an entire week without interfacing with anyone other than my girlfriend and my dog.  Sure, there’s email, phone calls and Twitter.  But as someone who thrives in a group dynamic, I can’t feel entirely fulfilled when the only incoming stimuli I’m reacting to are pixels.

The fewer people I interact with on a daily basis, the more static and placid my own ideas become.  The fewer opportunities I have to learn, or be surprised, or challenged, or grow.

Find people who excite you.  Find people who motivate you.  Hell, find people who infuriate you.  Tackle them.  Stick to them.  Pick their brains.  Argue with them.  Find a common ground, or find that you have no common ground at all.

Try to understand each other.  Work together, or compete.  At the very least, drill deeply enough into who they are that you learn something about yourself in the process.  If you don’t seek out reasons to perpetually redefine yourself, you start to forget who you are.

2.  Make It a Goal to Experience Something New on a Daily Basis.

When we first adopted our dog, Rufus, I told Ann that I wanted to make sure he got to experience something new every day.  It could be a new kind of food, or a new toy, or a new route to walk or a new person to meet.  To me (and clearly as a projection of me), I felt like allowing Rufus to fall into a stale routine would rob him of the opportunity to experience as much life as possible, and that would make us pretty lousy dog parents (in my mind, anyway).

In the beginning, this was easy because everything was new to Rufus.  After two years, it’s a little harder to go out of his (and my) comfort zone, and not every day is as trailblazing as I’d like it to be.  But when I feel like I’m too tired or distracted to walk or play with Rufus, sometimes I remember my original goal and I think, “I have to have five minutes to show Rufus something new.”

And if I can make that kind of time for my dog, I can do the same for myself.  Right?

3.  Admit That Nothing Matters.

Last weekend, as I looked at my miles-long to-do list and tried to feel bad for being behind schedule, I realized something just as powerful as my passion for staying busy:

Ultimately, I really don’t care.

Things will get done, or they won’t.  I’ll succeed, or I’ll fail.  I’ll live a life, and eventually I’ll die, and whatever impact I’ve had or legacy I leave will be up to someone else to make sense of.  I can’t control that, and trying to is an exercise in futility and a waste of energy that could be better spent exploring and enjoying my life.

So why feel guilty?

This line of thought might seem counter-productive to my stated goal of living a more active and engaged life.  It may even seem nihilistic.  But, on the contrary, I find that it helps me avoid wasting time and energy on feeling frustrated or guilty for not living up to arbitrary benchmarks and judgments of success, including my own.

Life is short.  Or it’s long.  Or, if you’re lucky, it’s just long enough.

It’s up to each of us to find our own rhythm.  But I doubt I’ll find mine by running in place.

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Now That Bloggers Are Being Taxed, It’s Time to Ask: Is YOUR Blog a Business?

Whether you blog for fun or profit, you may want to rethink your motives before your elected officials start doing your thinking for you.

According to the Philadelphia City Paper, Philadelphia bloggers are being charged a $300 business license tax, regardless of whether or not their blogs are profitable.  This means even Philadelphia’s casual blogs will now have to conduct themselves as businesses.

And while this news may initially seem comparable to a health inspector shutting down a 7 year-old’s lemonade stand, the truth is, Philadelphia just might have this right.

After all, social media has been begging to be taken seriously for years.

If you attend any PodCamp or other social media meetup, one of the first questions out of anybody’s mouth is, “But how do I monetize???”

And now that the city of Philadelphia is rewarding bloggers by classifying them as businesses (so they can be taxed, and so the city’s underworked accountants can have something else to do), bloggers naturally do what they do best: they complain.

All of which begs the question: why are you blogging, anyway?

At What Stage Does a Blog Become a Business?

If you’re blogging as a creative outlet, but you have sidebar ads… is your blog a business?

If your blog is a self-promotional tool, but it leads to direct consulting or marketing work… is your blog a business?

If you’ve never written a post in your life, but you employ autoscripts that crawl, steal and repost other people’s content to drive up your SEO ranking so you can charge for more blog ads… are you a business?

I don’t know many people who blog and don’t hope for lots of traffic.  But what do you need traffic for, unless you expect to (even indirectly) convert them into customers?

Do I think Philadelphia is being opportunistic, shortsighted and comically petty? Absolutely.

But if the blogging community tries to laugh this off, I think we miss an opportunity to look ourselves in the (collective) eye and ask a question so few of us bother to answer:

Why are we doing this, anyway?

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The Baristas: How I’m Using Kickstarter to Fund My Next Creative Project

I’m fond of finding ways to fund projects that don’t involve traditional investors or advertisers.  One of those avenues is Kickstarter, a crowdfunding resource for creative endeavors.  It lets a project’s audience become its investors.

So I thought I’d give it a try.

The Backstory

In 2003, I created Something to Be Desired, a web sitcom that ran until 2009 and earned a 2008 Yahoo! Video nomination for Best Web Series.

But then, in 2009, I moved to Baltimore, while the show’s cast stayed in Pittsburgh.

As the weeks turned into months, and STBD remained on indefinite hiatus, it became clear that we still hadn’t quite scratched our creative itch. But we also hadn’t figured out a way to streamline the show so it could be produced fast, easy and (ideally) from a distance.

Then we had an idea: why not just create a smaller, faster spin-off?

And so, ladies and gentlemen, I present to you… The Baristas.

The Project

Our goal is to raise $3000 by September 22.

If we do, we get that money to help fund the first stages of the project (equipment, wardrobe, food and drink for the cast and crew, etc.).

If we don’t raise the full $3000, we get none of it because Kickstarter uses an “all or nothing” approach.  (However, we can raise more than $3000.  There’s no limit once the minimum has been reached — as Tom Henderson’s wildly successful punk rock math project can attest.)

The Hook

Since Kickstarter is built around the idea of offering cool incentives to the people who back your project, we thought we’d give our backers the opportunity to help cast the show.

Anyone who pledges at least $25 to help The Baristas get started will receive (among other swag) a vote on the casting of a new role being created specifically for the series: a brand new barista, whose first day on the job will be the show’s first episode.  And the more you pledge, the more votes you get.

Interested?  Check out The Baristas on Kickstarter and see all the other incentives we’re offering to our backers — including t-shirts, DVDs, coffee mugs, and even the chance to have a character named after you.

And yes, once the project ends on September 22 (which is right after PodCamp Pittsburgh 5), expect an armchair analysis of my Kickstarter experience right here on this blog.

Hopefully it’ll include the phrase “completely exceeded my expectations”…

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Ego, Cynicism and Bad Reviews: What I Learned by Peeking at My Bounce Rates

Last week, I shared what I learned by blogging weekly instead of daily.  Judging by the high volume of traffic, retweets and comments that post generated, people are very interested in what makes someone else’s blog tick.

One comment that caught my eye was from Virginia Nussey, who said:

I shared your findings with my readers and one had a question, and I think the answer would open up this discussion in an interesting direction:

“any correlation between subject matter of posts vs. search trends/volume for those topics of the two time periods??”

When I tried to answer that question, I learned a few more things about my blog — and I noticed I have one post that’s become unusually sticky.

Even Small Numbers Tell a Story

Let’s examine the Top 10 phrases that drove traffic to me during my weekly blogging experiment:

Those terms would be:

  1. justin kownacki (119 visits)
  2. socialnomics ebook (93)
  3. socialnomics review (33)
  4. talk less do more (21)
  5. successful coffee shops (19)
  6. words that don’t mean anything (16)
  7. how to be more productive (12)
  8. tolerating you (12)
  9. www.justinkownacki.com (11)
  10. kownacki golden rule (10)

What does these numbers tell me?

1. Obviously, not much of my traffic comes from searches.

That’s fine, because I don’t do much SEO, nor do I have a system in place (ads, ebooks, etc.) to profit off search-driven visits.  Most of my traffic is driven by word of mouth, or by people specifically searching for me.

2. My blog bounces like a trampoline.

6 of those Top 10 traffic-driving phrases have a bounce rate higher than 60%, which means visitors aren’t interested in reading anything more from me than that particular result.  (And, with 4 of those results higher than 90%, some people don’t even want to read that.)

Again, this makes sense.  Because my blog isn’t specific to one topic, anyone who does stumble across it is unlikely to linger for long.  Also, phrases like “talk less do more” and “how to be productive” indicate that people are searching for general lifehacking tips, not multiple posts from the same author.

But…

3. To know me is to love me (for at least 3 minutes).

Visitors driven by 6 of these Top 10 phrases spent more than 1 minute on the site.

Of those 6 returns, 3 of them (“justin kownacki”, “tolerating you” and “www.justinkownacki.com”) spent more than 3 minutes on the site, and had a bounce rate lower than 50%.  This means that more than half of the people who came here looking specifically for me then took the time to poke around.

4. One post to stick above them all.

Last year, I blogged a negative review of Erik Qualman’s book Socialnomics.  Since then, I’ve forgotten about it, but Google evidently has a longer memory than I do.

Three of my top 25 inbound phrases (“socialnomics ebook”, “socialnomics review” and “socialnomics ‘erik qualman’ free ebook”) involve Socialnomics.  Oddly enough, people looking for “socialnomics ebook” bounced away after only 11 seconds, at a 96% rate.

But visitors from the other two phrases lingered — 6:45 (“socialnomics review”) and 7:59 (“socialnomics ‘erik qualman’ free ebook”).  And while that’s only 39 total people, those are 39 people who apparently stayed long enough to read (or at least skim) the full review.

So reviewing a book on social media is one way to wrap Velcro around your blog’s long tail.

5. There are some seriously cynical searchers out there.

In addition to “tolerating you,” some of my other Top 25 search term results include:

  • marketing bullshit
  • marketing douchebag
  • bullshit marketing
  • how to become a thought leader
  • you’re not awesome
  • chris brogan is an idiot

You may not please everybody all the time, but you can always count on trolls for traffic.

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