Five ways to get in the mood to write

As an entrepreneur, investor or advisor these days you need a professional looking blog to maintain your credibility. You need a place to showcase your thinking and participate in longer conversations than you can on Twitter or LinkedIn. Participating on a social networking site is like being a guest at someone else’s party. It’s nice, but you’re not the boss. You need a place to host your own party. You need a blog. But it’s tough to keep a blog going when you’re not in the mood to write.

Thought Leadership for bloggers
The Thought Leaders that have inspired me all have blogs and put their thinking out there for people to see.

A blog allows you to share your thinking and the lessons you’ve learned. Becoming a “thought leader” isn’t something that you can just put on a todo list and will magically happen. You need to do the hard work of thinking and then putting that thinking into words that others can benefit from. Over the years, I’ve been inspired by several writers that I admire and I’ve tried to learn from how they write.

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Social Video Apps

Video is the most powerful form of storytelling medium in all social media. This month I’ve been experimenting with Social Cam as a publishing medium for short, punchy videos about design, business and social media. Video is powerful because you can tell a narrative and convey emotion. Even as a professional communicator it is still one of the hardest mediums to master but also one of the most authentic.

Social Video
Social Cam is a mobile app that shares video to Facebook and YouTube

Social Cam, Viddy and Supr8 are part of a new trend towards more active video sharing using mobile devices. These apps allow you to shoot short videos in a stylised manner and share them quickly and easily. My camera has become like a mobile toast-masters exercise programme. I can now challenge my communications skills anywhere, any time.

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Gary Vaynerchuk on Social Media

I specialise in social media for brands and business, but Gary Vaynerchuk is the master of social media for individual entrepreneurs. He started as a baseball card collector and grew a multi million dollar wine business.

Gary the Wine Guy
Gary Vaynerchuk explodes off the screen on YouTube the Wine Guy.

Gary’s presentation in 2008 at Web Expo 2.0 was a turning point in the discussion of social media in business. There are lots of other people who can give you advice about ‘how’ to use social media, but no one but Gary can tell you so forcefully ‘why’ to use social media.

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Social media in the real world

The cutting edge of social media is offline. Businesses have become increasingly lost in cyberspace. They have forgotten that users are still walking around in the real world.

Giapo Gelato Social Media Touchscreen
Touchscreens can bring social media out into the real world.

In my consultancy I see a lot of people forgetting the two most important things about social media: 1. Digital experiences can still be part of the real world. 2. Social media doesn’t have to be digital.

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Social media for startups

Social Media is a naked communication medium. There is no ad agency making your adverts, no journalist writing an article about you. It’s just you and your customer, staring straight into each other’s eyes. If you are growing your own e-commerce website then everything you do will be focused on increasing conversion rates, basket sizes and margins.

Social media for ecommerce
Social media lets you get face-to-face with your customers.

There are lots of practical things that you can do to improve these metrics. Many of which are ordinarily covered on this blog. But what I want to discuss today is how people are attracted to your site in the first place.

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Using social media for market research

As social media and digital communication accelerate, the impact is being felt beyond mass-consumer advertising and bursting into all part of the business world. From large B2B companies to your local cafe.

Social Media for customer discovery
Customer discovery and market research is faster using social media.

In a social media and digital space there is nowhere for bad service to hide. I’ve long argued for the business value of design and creativity, but what does this mean in the new digital context? The answer starts with the increasing volume of your customer’s voice.

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Using social media for new product development

Customer research using online tools
Social media is one of the most powerful ways to understand your consumers.

The traditional ways for a brand to communicate range between television, print campaigns, advertising and PR. All of these traditional communication efforts use design, language and flow through the normal communication channels.

Social media demands a totally different approach.

In essence, the traditional approaches to communication were one-way. A brand or business created content, infused it with key messages and expressed it through channels out to the customers. The new media channels are much more about two-way conversation.

Listening before talking

The way to encourage a brand to take the step from a one-way communication thinking into two-way communication is to really get the business and the brand to start listening. In fact, my preference would be for a brand to really become obsessed with listening so that it infused throughout the culture of the whole business before embarking on any new media.

I really want to see the senior management team, marketing team, communications, and PR all involved in listening to customers. Particularly, the new product development team, design and engineering all need to be really listening to users in:

  • informal ways through focus groups and end user observations
  • formal ways such as user surveys, feedback forms, and warranty claim analysis.

I’ve found that once you get a business listening to their customers (and to their end users) then starting to have a two-way conversation is much easier than asking a brand to go straight from one-way communication into two-way communication.

What can you learn from Apple, if you’re not Apple

Apple is often used as a case study for brand consistency, design identity and technological innovation and even for end-user centred innovation. The dirty secret of Apple’s brand is that they really don’t listen that well. Maybe they don’t have to (certainly no one can doubt their success), but as a model for other companies to learn from I would actually be looking much more at a company like Harley Davidson in terms of their engagement with their customers.

Apple has website feedback forms, they have user forums and they have the ability to provide feedback on their software built into the software itself. All of these are useful but they don’t get used, at least as far as we can tell, to drive new product development in the same way as a company like Harley Davidson which creates new products genuinely based on customer feedback and customer ideas does.
Apple regularly takes an intuitive leap beyond customer feedback, which is great if you have Apple’s design team. But if you don’t, then I’d suggest you start by listening to your customers more closely.

If you are going to be listening to your users, and observing their behavior to derive insights then you will need a new set of tools that go beyond normal market research. It’s likely that you’re going to need to adjust the culture of the whole organisation to be more customer centered. This may take some time but is almost always worth it.

Tools to listen

This really highlights the overlap between social media and new product development based on end-user centred design. A practical focus for your company could be to run through 3 steps when you start getting into social media:
  1. The first step is to diagnose exactly where you are up to across the organisation in terms of your online presence.
  2. The second step is to identify the key goals that you want to achieve using social media. Think in terms of consumer engagement, increased sales and/or increased customer retention.
  3. And the third thing to do is to set priorities in terms of online presences and particular websites or web tools that are going to use.

Getting these 3 things sorted is going to help start off your brand down the track of building a conversation rather than a cacophony where only one side is talking.

Note: This post was dictated into my iPhone while having a coffee at one of the hidden cafes in Melbourne’s cobbled side-streets. It was transcribed in the UK by a virtual assistant from elance and the photo was taken by a local Melbourne DJ.

How to deal with a hate blog

A hate blog is a website that has been created to deliberately attack someone. It’s hard to know what to do about it if one is created to attack you. This post covers a series of countermeasures and counterattacks. Some of them are contradictory so don’t try and do them all at once. Just read through and equip yourself to deal with the attacker. 

There is plenty of advice online about how to deal with trolls, disgruntled customers and flame wars. These types of attacks usually happen on social media platforms where the best course of action is to ignore them and let them drop out of the day-to-day conversation. But there is very little information on how to deal hate blogs which persist and show up in search results next to (or even ahead of) your official page. 

Hate blogs are rare because they require dedication, persistence and technical knowledge to set up and maintain. I refer to the creators of hate sites as “trolls” because the fundamental motivations are similar to a social networking troll. They want attention and to hurt the object of their hate. 

1. Legal countermeasures

Legal threats against the troll themselves just tend to encourage them. But they can still be useful if you manage to bog the troll down in legal proceedings (and force them to spend money on a lawyer). On balance, it tends to drag both sides down and fuel the troll so I don’t recommend a direct legal attack. 

Instead, you can use legal proceedings (or the threat thereof) against third parties who are hosting or helping the hate site. Cease and desist letters can be grounded in any number of legal claims. But a good start would be DCMA, copyright, defamation, slander, libel, and misleading & deceiving conduct in the course of trade. None of these would win in court but they can be a strong enough threat to make a third party take something down. 

The threat of different causes of action are more or less effective against third parties. For example, Tumblr and Pinterest tend to ignore copyright claims because otherwise they’d spend all day dealing with them since having users posting other people’s stuff is their core business. 

Examples of third parties to counterattack which will help neutralise the hate site:

  • Google: Ask to have the site removed (copyright infringement is the best here).
  • Facebook: Ask to have their page/profile removed (having a registered trade mark is helpful here).
  • YouTube: Have their videos taken down (use copyright infringement)
  • Domain registrar: Ask to have their website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)
  • Web host (e.g. or Ask to have the website taken down (use trademark and/or aiding and abetting defamation)

The best way to deal with a hate site is to bury it on the second or third page of Google. That way it gets a lot less traffic and impacts your reputation a lot less. One part of burying a site is to attack the site itself. The other side is to raise up other content to replace it. 

2. Increase the ranking of positive sites 

Google abhors a vacuum. The average Google search results page has ten slots on it. If you only have one web page, then that one page is all that will appear and Google will fill the other slots with results that you can’t control or influence.  To displace a hate site you can try a range of things:

  • Social media: Create lots of social media profiles using your brand name. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest all rank well and may help drown out the hate site.
  • Existing third-party sites: Do your best to help promote existing third-party websites that rank below the hate site, but could rank above it with some love.
  • Micro-sites: Create blogs or seperate website sites that are semi-independent. Industry commentary and news syndication sites with the keywords of the hate site in the URL may help displace the hate site.
  • Content volume: Create lots of content and interesting conversations that displaces the hate site in social media conversations (which Google now uses as a ranking indicator).
  • Public relations: Get positive coverage in the media and high profile blogs. This will rank well (and fast).
  • Community: Encourage your community to blog about you and talk about you in social media.
  • Advertising: You can push down an unwanted search result with ads that point to either you own site, or if your own site already ranks well, point to a micro-site or third-party website.

Engage a good PR, SEO and Social Media expert (these are separate people, not one person) to run a proper, well rounded reputation building campaign. This will help displace the hate site. 

3. Decrease the ranking of the hate site 

While increasing the ranking of positive content, you can also try to decrease the ranking of the negative content. Given that hate sites can be pretty dark, you might be willing to fight fire with fire. Techniques to attack the hate site fall into white, grey and black  categories. White hat is morally (and legally) positive whereas grey hat is ambiguous and black hat techniques are illegal and/or morally dodgy.  

A. White hat counterattacks:

  • Remove any links to the hate site from your own site to avoid accidentally increasing their ranking.
  • Ask your community to not link to the hate site or discuss it on social media.

B. Grey hat counterattacks:

  • Identify any SEO wrongdoing on their part and report it to Google. You can file a spam report that will penalise them if they’ve done anything wrong.
  • Use a backlink checker to identify their most valuable links from third parties. Then write to the third parties and ask them to remove the links (using a DMCA or legal notice can be useful here).
  • Increase the rank of a harmless page on their website to displace the harmful ones. Choose a less harmful page on their site and use normal modern SEO techniques to raise the ranking of their less bad sub-page.

C. Black hat counterattacks:

  • Commission a hacker to break into the site. This is fastest countermeasure (and the most effective in the short term) because the hackers can make the site redirect to your own site and the problem simply goes away. But it’s also the least effective in the long run because the troll will just create another hate site and protect it with better passwords.
  • Commission a hacker to break into their site and place bad things on the site that the troll won’t notice (and therefore won’t fix). These include hidden text in the HTML with “bad” keywords like viagra, porn, etc. This is the “secretly sew anchovies into their curtain hems” attack because it causes a slow and silent decline that the troll won’t be able to detect.
  • Commission a group of hackers to run denial of service attacks and/or repeated ping attacks to slow their site down. Google penalises slow sites so their search ranking would gradually decrease.
  • Purchase links bad links on spam sites and point them towards the hate site. Google will see the bad links and penalise the hate site because they think the hate site has been buying the links for advertising purposes  This is complicated to set up and can backfire if the links are seen as valid links. But it is very effective and a very popular technique.
  • Purchase fake reviews of the site or business on a review site. It’s more effective to “review bomb” the hate site with five star reviews (which look fake ones they have purchased) than one star reviews (which look like a malicious attack). 
  • Scrape their site and duplicate it on your own site (or a patsy fake version) before Google can index it. This might decrease the ranking by making your patsy site rank higher, but it perpetuates the content of the hate site so it’s not ideal.
  • Create a very close replica version of their website with the content re-written in a way that you prefer. Then use Adwords advertising to rank your own “fake news” site above their hate blog.

4. Psychological countermeasures

  • Direct the troll’s anger elsewhere. Hate sites take time and effort to maintain. Google likes fresh content so you can make the troll bored by getting them to hate something else. One way to do this is to transfer your most controversial activities into a single discrete entity (separate from your main operation) and use that small operation to distract, enrage and divert the troll.
  • Have a third party angel befriend the troll. A hate site is usually the creation of one person. A charm offensive can be effective if it’s from a genuinely nice person who can gently turn the troll around. The angel may not be able to have the site removed but they might gradually be able to soften the troll and have the volume of the hate turned down.
  • Co-opt and absorb the troll. Debate, discussion and critique is a healthy part of public life. One option is to use your own sites to link to the hate site and refer to them as your “outsourced conscience”. You can comment on their posts (thanking them for keeping you honest). The hate site can be used as proof that what you are doing in the world is controversial because you are making a real difference.

The best defence is to be proud of your work (yet humble about your ego) and have a sense of humour. Your audience are smart enough to make their own decisions and over time you can win on your own merits.