How I Find Blogging Ideas

This is #9 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

Over the years I’ve had more than my share of writer’s block. I’ve found that I tend to go through short periods of intense activity, where I write a vast amount – articles, blogs, lyrics etc – followed by years of “drought”.

One strategy that I have adopted is to work with lists wherever possible. I use them to generate ideas for material (you need only look at the top of this blog entry to see an example), as well as to help structure longer pieces (there’s nothing like a well structured list of chapters for helping in the process of writing a book).

For blogging purposes, keeping a close eye on the news is also useful. There’s nothing like writing about something currently interesting to people when it comes to attracting attention to a blog. However, my gut feeling is that writing only about topical subjects means that the material will rapidly become dated. If you use this approach, make sure that you also write about enduring topics.

As somebody who writes largely about business-related topics, I draw much of my material from my day to day experience running businesses. A good way to find topics to write about is to draw on your own life. If you use this approach, a good strategy is to learn to allow your own “voice” to come through in your writing. Your unique voice and personality is powerful. Write about the things you feel strongly about: things that you love or hate, things that amuse or horrify you.

A final way to find topics: ask people what they want to read about.

Another Corporate Fraud Announcement

Yahoo! News reports that Satyam Computer Service’s Chairman has resigned after admitting to falsifying results.

It always fascinates me how some companies can get away for years with this kind of thing, then fold like a deck of cards when the economy takes a downturn.

Somebody wise once told me (they were talking about small business partnerships) that things always tend go smoothly when everyone is making money. I guess a recession just does a better job of highlighting underlying flaws in an organization that were always there.

Ways to Save a Bad Time at a Conference

This is #8 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

A few years ago, my business partners at the time and I went to a local conference. I’m not sure what it was about this conference, but it didn’t seem like we were getting any opportunities to network with people. Sometimes it’s just one of those days. You either already know people you talk to, or people aren’t friendly (I don’t know why unfriendly people go to networking events), or maybe they just didn’t set things up right for people to meet.

Faced with the choice of sticking it out or packing it in, we decided to take an alternative approach.

My one partner happened to have a bunch of gear in his car, including a wireless internet box (one of the high speed cellular ones) and a wifi access point. So we whipped together a free hotspot, and wrote out a sign with a marker to let people know they could connect to the internet from us. Pretty soon we had a small crowd around the table we were occupying, and we got to chat with people after all.

Moral of the story: if the conference sucks, its up to you to make it better.

How Best to Comment on a Corporate Blog

This is #7 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

This topic hit close to home, in a certain sense, for me. As you probably noticed, the home page for my company is a blog. I did this for a number of reasons, one of them being that I am very interested in what my customers (and potential customers) have to say.

When commenting on a corporate blog, the objective is usually to either voice a complaint, or to compliment the company for the things they are doing right.

In either case, you’ll get the most traction if you do the following:

  • Make it specific: give detailed examples
  • Make it actionable: if you’re going to criticize, make sure that you also come up with some ideas about how to do things better. If you don’t, you aren’t going to get anywhere. If you are complimenting, write down some ideas for other companies to do things right in the same way.
  • Carrot vs Stick: if you need to be negative, don’t be entirely negative. One of the best ways to get great customer service is to be nice. It also helps if you have lots of neat ideas that can help the culprit do things better in future.

How Flickr Did it Right

This is #6 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

  • Build a tool that people want to use. Check!
  • Put in a whole lot of nice crunchy Ajaxy stuff for people to play with. Check!
  • Figure out how to make money from it while not chasing away the free profile folks. Double checkmark!

Technology That Empowers Me

This is #5 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t be reading this.

Thirteen or fourteen years ago, I had a blog (I called it a web diary) that had about three irregular readers. All of them knew me. There weren’t really any search engines (yeah you can haggle with me on this one, but really there weren’t!), and there was no possible way anyone could have found me.

Today anyone with a big of imagination and some free time can post up a blog, cross reference their feed in a bunch of places, crow about it on Twitter, comment on a few other blogs – and within a few hours (if they have anything useful and interesting to say!), they have an audience. Not just people they know – people anywhere.

If that isn’t empowering, I don’t know what is.

Why DandyId Rocks

If you are looking for an example of a social media site that really works hard at building a relationship with its “customers”, check out DandyId.

I found the site via a plugin for WordPress by Neil Simon.

DandyId allows you to put in links to all of your public profiles in a single place, which is useful when you have a large number of them. The plugin, in turn, allows you to list them all on your blog.

I happened to note on this site that there were a few social media sites that I had profiles for that were not available on DandyId. Within minutes, Neil had contacted me to ask for a list, which he then forwarded along to DandyId. The next day, they were all incorporated into their system.

Impressive.

If you are in the business of dealing with customers, I hope that you a) listen, b) care, c) respond as well as Neil and DandyId. I hope that I can relate to my customers that well.

A Community I Love

This is #4 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

Alas, this post is a lament.

Way back when, there used to be a website called Askme.com. A friend of mine introduced me to Askme, which filled a niche similar to Yahoo! Answers today. Unlike Answers, people needed to specifically register to answer questions in a particular category, and in doing so indicate how they were expert in the topic. Users of the site rated answers in the standard manner, and experts were ranked both overall and in their categories of expertice.

The Askme community is probably the most vibrant of all of the online communities that I have been involved with over the years. In every category in which I was active, there were users who I truly got to know – both experts and people asking questions. People stuck around for years, and got involved in maintaining their categories.

Unfortunately the company decided that running a free website to showcase their technology was too expensive, so they shut it down in order to focus on selling their software to Fortune 500 companies instead. The hundreds of thousands of committed experts floated away along the internet’s pipes, and so far I have yet to find another site that I truly felt at home participating in to the same extent. From what I’ve heard, I’m not the only one.

Should My Town Use Social Media?

This is #3 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

I’ve seen this a lot lately: some little flyspec place a million miles away from anything decides that they need to be bleeding edge. So they build a virtual world that duplicates the whole town and everything in it, and then try to provide municipal services through it.

My chief question is whether they have virtualized garbage collection and property taxes. I’d love to be able to pay my property taxes in Linden Dollars.

I don’t see anything wrong really with the notion that municipalities need to find more ways to connect to residents (as long as they do it right). I think the critical factor is that they need to realize that Social Media provides a different set of features and opportunities to other, older ways of “interfacing”. If their goal is to give their residents a way to contribute to the community then good for them. If they think that throwing up a 3d VR version of City Hall and then hoping that people will vote them in again next time around, then they should understand up front that they are wasting taxpayer’s money.

Ways I Embrace My Audience

This is #2 on Chris Brogan’s 100 Blog Topics list, and is part of the 100 Topics Challenge.

The idea behind corporate blogging is to somehow build a more effective connection between a company and its customers. By allowing customers to have a say in how the company functions – giving them “ownership” in a certain sense – there is both opportunity and risk. The risk is more obvious: what if they say bad stuff about us? The opportunity has been well documented by people like Seth Godin and Guy Kawasaki – there is something incredibly attractive about a company that is truly willing to open itself up and “embrace” its customer base.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t have too much first experience with this idea. Yes, I’ve blogged in the past, but it was always more of a personal thing to amuse myself and my friends. Yes, I’ve played around with social media for marketing previous companies that I’ve been part of, but again this was in some way a half-hearted effort; not much more than randomly broadcasting “here I am” to anyone who would listen.

When I started Lichtman Consulting, I wanted to do things better, in a way that I had always somehow felt attracted to, yet never quite did – often because I couldn’t get buyin from my stakeholders (and other times because it is hard and takes real work). My goal was to build the kind of company that I had always admired from the distance. A company that listen to its customers. A company that gave them a say in matters. A company that is committed to Open Source, to community give-back, to making the world a better place. Not just words, but for real.

When I think of embracing my audience, I think of:

  • let people comment on anything;
  • respond to their comments;
  • try to learn their needs;
  • make an effort to change what I do to fit their needs better (even when it hurts);
  • learn (and teach) constantly;
  • care about stuff

I’m not convinced that I’ve totally nailed it yet. I mean I’ve seen other people do it, and do it well. People you’ve heard of too. I know I’m still new at this game, and that there is a lot to learn if I’m going to be any darn good at it.

Have some good ideas on embracing your audience? I’d love to hear from you!