Avoid the Worthless First Post

Anyone who’s followed a few blogs or social media accounts has seen his or her share of exuberant and vapid kick-off posts like“Now We’re Also On Google+!”

TL;DR Nobody values first posts that just announce the start, maybe because they’re so easy to write! But there are better ways to start.

These posts resemble WordPress’s “Hello World” default first post, and there’s a reason WordPress tells you to delete it or change it. Your social media account or fresh new blog may be exciting to you. It may be the culmination of a lot of effort from getting support in your organization to finalizing design choices. You might’ve worked on it for a year, or stayed late for weeks to get this thin up and running. Congratulations!

Nobody cares. That’s the problem. Nobody else cares.

Before you hit publish, before even start the first draft, put yourself in the position of the user visiting your site, or your social media account. Would you come back to a site because you read a breathless announcement that this post is the first one?

Do you ever pull out your phone because you want to re-read the statement that somebody started Tweeting? No?

If you must introduce, do it by outlining some upcoming content, introducing yourself (if this is an altogether new website or account), make it a teaser that shows people why it will be good.

Write that post if you must have the “one giant leap for mankind” quote in your feed, but the same day do something…

Even better: just jump into the first topic. Introduce that. Start providing something that your desired audience will value. Jump right in with useful stuff.

Any regrets? Don’t worry. Most of us have done it. I have.The point is we’re now well into the 21 century, we’ve grown, and we know better.

How do you do it? Share your strategy for getting started well, and check back, we’ll soon get into planning content – a lot.

  1. Sheesh, what can I say? Do as I say not as I do.

Bulk Update Algo

A week’s social media posts can eat up hours of time — especially since its often necessary, or at preferable, to customize updates for each social network 1. Multiply that by several posts per day for every day of the week, and even a few extra minutes per post can cost (or save) an hour.

"Chained" by VinothChandar on Flickr
“Chained” by VinothChandar on Flickr

Emphasize creativity and interaction. I like to spend most of my energy sifting through sources, evaluating options, making each update, and engaging on social media. That is where my human abilities matter most to the audience. Logistics, on the other hand, are just the kind of thing that a computer should do, and with a little forethought they certainly can.

For publishing, I often use HootSuite’s bulk scheduling feature, but there are other options like SocialOomph. This lets me upload a CSV file containing the time, post text, and a link if any. This is handy because it helps to ensure that content is going out in a timely fashion. This asynchronous dimension matters a lot to me because it frees up mental resources for the serendipitous interactions that occur on social media. It also lends a little extra sanity in a fast-paced environment that often requires multitasking.

Here’s how I do it

HootSuite requires a separate CSV for each property (e.g., each Facebook page even ones owned by the same account). This is how I’ve started to create each of those files.

Spreadsheet Setup. I create the updates once, and I don’t start with CSV. I start with a spreadsheet file that is a little more sophisticated because I employ a formula to count characters. HootSuite shortens links to at most 23 characters, so here’s how I estimate the character count:

=IF(LEN(C1)>23, LEN(B1)+23, LEN(B1)+LEN(C1))

That means that, if there is a link more than 23 characters, add 23 to the character count for the update, otherwise, just add the length of the link to the length of the update.

My spreadsheets also include two extra columns that HootSuite will not use. In the first I record source information like author and publisher names. In the second I note any other people or organizations I want to mention. It’s easiest to do this once, and then look for their accounts on each social network when I am customizing. The alternative is to find the person on one social network, then later backtrack to that network each time in order to get their name and search another network for it. Sounds minor, but it gets tedious.

"On the Chopping Block" by Wendy on Flickr
“On the Chopping Block” by Wendy on Flickr

Write for Twitter first, but leave out handles. Twitter might not be your most important platform, but start with it anyway. Your writing will be better everywhere. Twitter forces concision, and it’s easier to add a word or sentence than it is to first waste time rambling and then take more time to boil it down to 140 characters for Twitter. Very often, the shorter update will be better anyway, but the act of cutting it down makes me very aware of what additional information I’d really like to add. If it seems important enough, I’ll also make it into a second tweet 2.

With all the tweets done, but not yet in final form, it’s time to save a new copy of the CSV for each additional social network. I save with an account and a date indicator of some kind in the name for easy uploading.

"Chalk Stripe" by JamesPetts on Flickr
“Chalk Stripe” by JamesPetts on Flickr

Customize for each network. Now I move to customizing each set of updates. I look up the people I want to mention and mention them as space allows. The character count formula comes in handy here, making sure the update isn’t too long. HootSuite will not take any updates from a file if even one is too long.

In non-Twitter versions, I usually first delete the content I’m not going to publish there. I then replace @usernames with appropriate ones (e.g., +username on G+), and then expand the language anywhere necessary. Often some hashtags are irrelevant (e.g., references to Twitter chats like #getrealchat). Facebook versions of the file do not have @ or + names in them.

In some cases, a CSV cut down for one account is almost exactly what will go on others, and it takes even fewer edits to use that version as the starting point rather than the copy of the Twitter CSV. For instance, a Twitter version cut down for G+ will often be closer to what you want for Facebook.

Save out CSVs. Once each file is properly set up, I save it, then delete columns that HootSuite doesn’t take and save it again as CSV.

Upload to HootSuite. The files are now ready to upload. HootSuite makes this quick and easy. CSV files are compact so upload is usually quick. HootSuite also checks the file for errors and lets you know what you need to change if something is wrong.

Proof. Finally, before logging out of HootSuite, I always check over the scheduled updates. HootSuite lets you look at updates per property and account so it’s easy to tell if everything is going where you want it to and when. Nothing is set in stone; it’s pretty easy to make changes to time and content.

Stand up and stretch, you’ve earned it. No matter what kind of week you have, updates will happen on schedule. If anything comes up, it’s easy enough to go back into HootSuite and make a change.

1. It’s nicer not to have Twitter names (e.g., @twitter) in your Facebook posts, for instance.

2. I’m assuming that, like most, your Twitter followers see more updates and that it’s at least permissible, and maybe desirable, to have more frequent updates there.

Will Flight MH370 be Google+’s Big Break?

Note: A few years down the road, it appears that Google+ never really got a break of any kind.

This post can do nothing to explain the loss of flight MH370. If that’s why you’re here, I’ll save you the time. This post is about something trivial, but interesting to social media geeks like me: A recent, and “wildly popular” Google+ post attributed flight 370’s course diversion to an attempted emergency landing at Pulau Langkawi.

Swift, thorough critique makes the hypothesis appear untenable today. However, the initial spike in popularity and the ensuing discussion also makes the post very visible, and it may for some time even if it is wrong.

Google Plus has been written off as a universal flop…” so far. I wonder if this post will turn out to be the beginning of the bend in the hockey stick for what has been a mediocre G+ adoption graph. More mainstream readers will see the post acknowledged and linked in more mainstream websites like Wired and Slate

Until now, the (mostly SEO-related) reasons haven’t been that easy for most people to see. Repetition and dramatic stories can often be more influential than well-reasoned arguments. The same can hold true for simple explanations… even if they turn out to be overly simple. And, as the news buzz always demonstrates, tragedies can benefit media, even social media.

How to Choose a Secure Password

Security expert Bruce Schneier has a new post on Boing Boing, “Choosing a Secure Password,” and it couldn’t be more timely. When I happen to learn what even smart and sophisticated people choose as a password, I’m often shocked. Shocked! It’s happened to me a lot in the last year.

I’m relatively thorough about my password choices, and even methods that I thought reasonable (if not great) can turn out to be quick work for hackers in 2014. So read the post, and if you don’t have time to do that now, here’s the gist:

My advice is to take a sentence and turn it into a password. Something like “This little piggy went to market” might become “tlpWENT2m“. That nine-character password won’t be in anyone’s dictionary. Of course, don’t use this one, because I’ve written about it. Choose your own sentence — something personal.

And don’t think that your website and social media accounts are exempt from these requirements! First, your reputation is at stake, and even a prankster could do serious damage by posting or commenting as you. Second, if you’re using a similar password scheme for multiple sites, the stakes could be even higher.

Often accounts shared within an organization are the worst, in my experience, because multiple people need to remember the password and the person setting up the account doesn’t want to be bugged every time somebody forgets their password. It’s a bother to change them, and then get everybody on the same page about it, but the alternative is much more bothersome.

Now, change those passwords!

The Ideal Writing Stack

Note: This is a cross-post from my personal blog that seems relevant here too.

I’m creating an author once, publish everywhere toolkit and using it most every place that I can, from blog posts to internal business memos. Sometimes called COPE, this approach seems to continue gaining popularity. I like it because it improves my efficiency and lets me learn some cool technologies and transferrable skills.

The source and the rendered version of this post.
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Announcing Software

Gusset Beard occasionally writes some software that it can share. From now on, that exciting stuff will get posted here under Software. It’s a way of giving back to the immensely helpful and supportive community of strategists, marketers, technologists, and community managers that Gusset Beard learns from on a weekly basis. No complaints if it sends a little more traffic over here either. 😉

Expect updates in fits and starts and minimal support. As a small business, there just won’t always be time to keep up with the latest. Since this stuff gets used internally, though, somebody will get around to fixing it and posting a fix pretty quickly. Send a note or connect on Twitter (@deEscalate), Facebook, or Google+ (+Gusset Beard), if you run into trouble.

Four tips for blogging about Twitter chats

Most blog posts about Twitter chats are frustrating. They mention very few and don’ t help people participate much. Isn’t that why they came to your blog to read this post in the first place?

  1. List some friggin’ chats. Don’t just give a couple examples.

  2. Name names like mediators or primary contributors if possible — and for the love of all that is efficient, please include their Twitter screen names.

  3. Include a schedule. It can be surprisingly hard to determine when a Twitter chat starts based on just a hashtag search (partly because the discussion might get drawn out, and people might retweet or reply with the hashtag for days after the chat is over).

  4. Don’t spend the bulk of the post telling us what a chat is. We’re three quarters of the way through 2013!