Join Me For The Social Media Weekend At Columbia School of Journalism, Jan 27-29

If you are near New York City at the end of January, and at all interested in social media, I highly recommend this event: the Social Media Weekend, organized by the Columbia School of Journalism.

I will be involved in the event in two ways:

  • Moderating this session: Mashable’s Secrets: What we can learn from one of the largest online news communities.
  • Serving as a “Social Media Doctor,” providing hands-on assistance with social media for anyone who attends.

And of course, I will be taking in the AMAZING speakers and attendees that show up. Here is a highlight of some of the speakers & sessions:

  • Fred Wilson (@fredwilson) investor in many of the biggest social networks, who writes an incredible blog at
  • An 1.5 hour session from the folks at Facebook.
  • Eric Carvin (@EricCarvin), the new social media editor of the Associated Press with Erica Anderson (@EricaAmerica), Twitter’s manager for news & journalism.
  • A session from Google, where they will be conducting live one of the first public “Hangout On Air” – a new type of Google Hangout.
  • The Mashable session

And there is SO MUCH MORE! There are so many other sessions with amazing folks who are leveraging social media. Check out the full schedule here.

Tickets are still available, but my feeling is they won’t be for much longer. They cost $50 for Friday, and $100 each for Saturday and Sunday. or, $200 for the weekend.

Full details here:

Thanks so much to Columbia’s Sree Sreenivasan (@sree) for organizing such a cool event, and for allowing me to be a part of it. If you are curious about what last year’s Social Media Weekend was like, check out some great photos here.


How Journalists Can Best Leverage Social Media

How can journalists best leverage social media? That was the issue addressed at an event I went to last week: Columbia Journalism School’s “Social Media One-Night Stand.” This was an ‘advanced social media class’ of about 150 people, many working journalists and media professionals. The event was hosted by Professor Sree Sreenivasan:

Sree Sreenivasan

There were about 15 chief editors in the room, plus tons of insiders from around journalism and media. I turned around in my chair during a break and met two editors from Consumer Reports. I love that.

This Guy Gets Paid to Tweet
Craig Kanally was a featured speaker. He had JUST left his job as senior editor of traffic and trends at the Huffington Post to become the new social media director of NBC News. Here he is speaking with Sree on stage:

Sree Sreenivasan and Craig Kanally

He shared quite a few useful insights:

  • The Huffington Post has a team of 10 people managing social media, including analytics.
  • Who you follow defines your experience on Twitter. Follow those who inspire you.
  • Use social media in a way that helps others, not in a way that helps just yourself.
  • If you use social media well, you never stop learning.
  • Before you Tweet, ask yourself: “Will this help other people?”
  • “I can’t stress enough the importance of Google+” One day, Google+ will have a huge impact on Google search results. Google is experimenting with sending traffic to brand searches to Google+ instead of to the brand homepages
  • Don’t get so obsessed with social media, that you forget what is important in the journalistic process.
  • Three things that drives engagement in social media: something that provokes emotion, is controversial, or has universal appeal.

What I loved most about having Craig in the room was watching him while offstage. He sat there hunched over his smartphone, Tweeting away; someone fully present in two places at once, and trying to bridge the gap between the two.

Craig Kanally

What also struck me about him was his passion for journalistic integrity. He provided a lot of tips and experiences throughout the evening, but when key issues of how to fairly and objectively deal with sharing news and information came up, you could see the intensity in his eyes that reflected his driving purpose. You really saw him speak from the heart, and I absolutely love seeing that.

Finding Journalists on Social Media
A number of tools and services were featured throughout the evening. I spoke with the founders of Muckrack Gregory Galant, who took me through the service. The site helps you see “what journalists are talking about.” I had heard about it before, but enjoyed digging in. It seems to add a layer that is needed in social media – an organizational filter. It is incredible for research, and I plan on spending more time with it. One main thing to point out with the service is that if you aren’t a card carrying journalist, the service costs anywhere from $99-$899 per month. The “Standard” package is $199. That felt really expensive to me, more than I can justify spending on it. Which bummed me out a bit, it looks really cool.

Automating and Measuring Social Media Engagement
Two other companies were featured, which helped you manage your social media presence and potentially increase effectiveness. For me, this was the weirder part of the evening. The audience seemed to really love both of these tools, but I just felt more skeptical about them. That’s not a knock to either of the tools, both are rather new, and I can’t clearly form an informed decision so quickly.

The first company was SocialFlow, and their VP of Marketing Michael Chin took us through it. Basically, it helps you schedule your Tweets so that they use keywords that will be “most engaging” to others, and will be shared at the exact time when people will find them most engaging.

The service has a “resonance predictor” that looks like a speedometer dial. To me, it seemed like trying to measure love. Can it really be done? Can we analyze social interactions enough to know that I should Tweet about a topic at 1:34pm ET on a Tuesday in order to “maximize engagement.” I’m always skeptical of automation in the social process. Especially in a meetup focused on journalism, I was concerned that the service focused too much on what’s popular, not what’s important.

Sree raved about the service, which is high marks indeed, so I will be checking it out much more closely. Overall, the crowd seemed to really be into it.

Proliphiq was the next service that was featured, “a search engine for credible sources of content.” The site is still in private beta, so we were getting an early look. Overall, I found the site wonky, hard to understand, and kept being confronted with examples of who is “credible” on a certain topic that really confused me. This service seemed to rely a bit on popularity as well, and the interface didn’t seem intuitive. But… it’s in private beta, so I DO NOT want to judge it too harshly too soon. The idea is solid, similar to Muckrack, but with a broader focus.

The Real Star of the Show: Professor Sree Sreenivasan
The real highlight of the evening is Sree himself. Clearly, he shares a lot of information and ideas meant to educate us in ways that push our work forward. But he has an incredibly strong focus on connecting people, not just sharing knowledge. Throughout the entire evening, he ensured everyone who spoke anywhere in the room had shared their Twitter handle along with their name. He would pause to spell out Twitter handles again and again. It was like a dinner party, Sree kept introducing members of the audience, telling you who they were, why they were important, and encouraging everyone to meet them, or at the very least, follow them on Twitter.

And of course, Sree shared some widsom as well for how to best leverage social media:

  • If you are always listening to the same people on social media, you aren’t leveraging it properly.
  • On public speaking: Keep it tight and Tweetable.
  • Everything you Tweet is captured and archived by the Library of Congress. When you Tweet, it is the only thing you write that day that is guaranteed to go into the Library of Congress.
  • Always question your tools. Don’t be afraid to try something new, to find a more effective tool.

Sree himself shared a nice recap of Tweets and stats about the event as well.

Thank you to Sree for his hospitality, as well as to adjunct professors Liz Borod Wright and Linda Bernstein.

973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank |

Promote an IDEA, Not a Product

I often hear this advice given to those engaging in social media:

Talk 95% about others, 5% about yourself.

Today, I want to dig in to what that might look like for an individual or brand. When considering this, I think people often INTEND to talk about others, but two things get in their way:

Dan Blank

  • Their runway is short. They have a new product launching soon, and they desperately want to begin promoting it now.
  • They are so excited about their own work, and they assume others will be too.

This is where people tend to ADVERTISE instead of ENGAGE in social media. So how can one do both? Talk about others, while also helping to establish their own brand? Let’s ask this question within a specific context:

Should Apple should spend 95% of their time talking about others, and 5% talking about themselves?

What would that look like? Maybe something like this:

  • How others create beautifully designed and functional objects. These could be case studies, videos, interviews, or merely reflections on other companies that do things well.
  • Stories of people’s creative process: how they whittle away the unnecessary to create their work. This could focus on people from history or current day artists or designers.
  • Creative uses of their products: how their customers use Apple products to create vibrant businesses and creative work.
  • The problems in the world that Apple sees, and a focus on those who are solving them. EG: The need for green design and smaller packaging in consumer products.
  • Their passion for design – where they see great design elsewhere in the world.
  • Those who have inspired the world (and Apple) along similar values.

Apple has done some of these things in specific places, but not the exact 95/5 ratio.

Think DifferentThere are in-between areas, where a company such as Apple talks about both others – and themselves – at the same time. So when you see those old “Think Different” ads, they featured others: Jim Henson and the like. So technically, Apple is talking about “others.” But really, they are trying to align themselves with an IDEA, then get you to buy into that idea, and by doing so, you are aligning yourself with Apple. It’s the whole:

If A = B and B = C, then A = C

…thing. So in the example above:

If the creative spirit = Jim Henson,
And Jim Henson is in an Apple ad,
Then Apple must = the creative spirit

When you promote ideas larger than yourself, you give people infinite ways to find a way in. It aligns to preconceived notions they may have had, or experiences that were meaningful to them in the past. That someone has a childhood of memories about how free and excited Sesame Street made them feel, and now as adults, those feelings are being tapped into to shape our viewpoint of Apple products. That, as someone building the image of your brand, you are somehow channeling an idea that is buried in their mind, surfacing it, and getting them to say: “YES!” to something that just happens to be two inches away from your brand.

There is a halo effect to that.

That if you believe what Jim Henson believed, then you and Apple are alike. They are friend, not foe. That, just maybe, we can trust Apple. You aren’t that tribe on the other side of the river: “other.” You are from the same place, going in the same direction.

There are also in-between areas such as a math tutor broadcasting the message: “I am so proud of my student who just got into Harvard. Nice to see our hard work together pay off.” So here, the teacher is talking about someone else, but also talking about the value of their own work, and aligning themselves with the reputation of Harvard.

The Apple ads above are quite old. Nowadays, Apple does this by showing off innovative apps for their iPad and iPhone devices. Sure, they are promoting others, but in doing so, promoting the capabilities of Apple’s own devices.

Another interesting example can be seen in 37 Signals. Their homepage does indeed talk 95% about THEMSELVES.

But… their wildly popular company blog does talk about others. It shares a range of things about their viewpoint as a company, who inspires them, about trends that they feel threaten the things they value. In fact, most of the posts are somehow related to themselves, but it’s not always directly promotional. They are taking a layer off, bringing you inside to connect with their ideas, their employees, and those in their community. And you know what: it works. It’s an incredible resource because of HOW they talk about things. They aren’t promotional, they are exploratory, they are creating a worldview.

In your own use of social media, it would involve ReTweeting others as much as sharing your own observations; It would mean including @names liberally; It would mean sharing the INSPIRATION for what you do, not just the sales pitch for what you do.

That, when you talk about ANYTHING, you are promoting an IDEA, not just a product.

I think this is why I (and many others) constantly use Apple as an example. Sure, they are always promoting a product for us to buy. But, they also try to show us what great design is, that it is more than a list of features, that what you remove is as important as what you add.

Steve Jobs talks about this in the 1990’s:

“The focus is about saying no. And the result of that focus will be some really great products, where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”

When engaging in social media, this is something to keep in mind. That what you share, that how you interact reflects on your brand and overall message in subtle ways. That when someone says: talk more about others than about yourself, they mean to support, help and give more than you ask or take. And that this will come back to you in thousands of small positive ways.

It is a long term strategy. In that same Steve Jobs video that I mentioned above, he talks about the investment Apple is making in the future. This was at a time when Apple stock shares were at a historical low: in the teens. He said: when the press have a shortsighted view of what Apple is building, and they undervalue the stock, go out and buy it. The stock is now in the high 300s, and the company is one of the greatest turnaround stories in the history of business.

If you want to build something of lasting value – the foundation of a legacy – talk more about ideas rather than making an overt sales pitch.

973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank |

Showing is Not Teaching

I am excited to announce the summer session of my 8-week online course: Build Your Author Platform. (click the link!)

This is my flagship course – something that I have spent months and months developing. This course gives you a complete strategy to build your brand and become a part of a community of people who appreciate your writing.

Recently, I’ve talked about why I love teaching. Today, I want to talk about the difference between truly teaching, and merely “showing.”

I bought something this week, and while opening it up, I couldn’t help but noticing the promises it made on the side of the box:

WOW! How much would you pay for something that does all of that? Maybe $10,000? Or more? I mean, this is comparable to a college education, right? At this point, you must be asking, what magical gadget can teach all of this. May I present to you:

Sure, it’s a new toy for my 9-month old son’s play area – essentially a big doorway with lots of buttons to press. But does pressing buttons equate to teaching?

I am considering this as a metaphor, how each of us approaches career development, and the many projects and services that we encounter that somehow promise us an easy path to our dreams.

Now, the object above SHOWS my son what letters look like. Maybe if he presses some button it will say “A” in a pre-recorded voice. But this is not teaching. And this is the failing of many training and education products and services aimed at adults in developing their careers. Showing is not teaching.

Teaching requires the instructor to “get their hands dirty” – not just wrestling with the material, but working WITH each unique student. Oftentimes, it’s not just about intellect, but about emotions. Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it occurs within the context of our already busy lives. And let’s face it, each of us are coming from a different place, and have different goals.

The larger educational system solved this by creating standardized tests and assigning letter grades to determine who “passed” and who “failed.” I won’t go into any commentary on that, and I won’t pretend that is a straightforward issue. (massively complex, in fact)

With launching the summer session of my Build Your Author Platform course, I have been obsessing over issues such as this: how can I best TEACH; how can I actually move the needle in someone’s life, bringing them closer to their goals.

I have been developing this course for well over a year now, and this is only the second time I am making it available. Why? Because I keep wanting to analyze it to make it even stronger. I took 2 months off between the last offering in the Spring. That time has been spent analyzing feedback from students, adding features, and ensuring how my time can best be spent with the students who sign up.

If you feel that this course would benefit someone you know, please spread the word. Here’s that link again:

Build Your Author Platform.

973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank |

The Ownership of Connection

There are many online social networks that vie for our attention. They help connect us in new and innovative ways. But the true value of connection is dependent on each of us – to build something of value out of these many loose connections.

While we may focus one network or another – Facebook, Twitter, and the like – these services do not own the connections between people.

Dan Blank Two early social networks are in their final phase of unraveling, a de-evolution of the promise of how the web will connect us:

Sure other networks have usurped them, and through them, we remain connected in new ways. But these networks continue to change as well: the current top-dog in the online social media space, Facebook, is rolling out new ways to monetize those of us who use it.

Social networks are created, they are invested in, bought, sold, merged, and eventually taken away. Sure, I don’t use MySpace anymore, but I imagine someone still does. Someone who has devoted years to connecting with others there, and now it will be sold, reimagined, assimilated, and combined with other services.

So with Facebook’s insane valuation of $50 billion – what is it they own – what is it they produce?

Really, it’s us.

Sure, they have some software, and it’s very good software. But it’s useless without us.

Likewise, content farms such as Demand Media are realizing this: Google Traffic to Demand Media Sites Down 40 Percent. They have built a small empire of online content, but a large portion of it relies on Google to find an audience. So they own content, but not the connection.

Evidently, aol’s Patch websites are looking to hire nearly 8,000 bloggers in the span of a week. But it will take far less than a week to let those bloggers go when aol decides to change course yet again.

Businesses get excited about platforms like these, because they are an easy way to organize – to productize – us. You and me.

Why did Huffington Post sell for $315 million? Many reasons, but chief among them was an army of writers who worked for free, and the attention that we all gave them.

The human connection is rare and valuable. It is ephemeral, requires a ton of resources to create and maintain. This is why companies go through massive layoffs. Because the people are their biggest expense. They are also a company’s most flexible resource. When you lay off 5 people from a 10 person team, the company knows that the remaining 5 people will somehow get 90% of the work done with half the resources. People are funny that way.

You have goals. I have goals.

What I have been very interested in recently is how people come together to help each other reach their goals. Beyond just “connecting” via social networks – following and friending – how one person can help another, with ideas, expertise, and motivation. Not passively, but actively. How can we look beyond the halo effect of “I shared a link on Twitter – I helped inform and inspire people because of it.” Rather, actively strengthening the connections we have, understanding the goals we share in common, and working together in a coordinated fashion to help each other reach them.

This becomes even more interesting when considering how GROUPS come together to build lasting connections as they work collectively towards their goals.

This week wrapped up an eight week course I taught for writers called Build Your Author Platform. It was an online class, consisting of a virtual classroom, forum, conference calls, videos, lectures, and homework. A group of us came together with similar goals, and eight weeks later, not only felt as though we progressed towards them, but that we created bonds with each other. So much so that the students nearly demanded I create a way for us to remain connected – to continue to work together. (I did create a new way for us to do that.)

This really fascinates me – how our lives are journeys, and how we come to rely on those who share this experience with us. We learn together, and through that, we become closer.

I do see that happening in social media too – on Twitter and Facebook – but it is often the product of individual initiative to make this happen. Sure, these companies help us connect, but they don’t OWN the connections between us. It is up to each of us to decide whether to connect, how we connect, and the long-term value of those connections. That a Twitter follower can become a lifelong friend. That a Facebook friend will become someone whose advice you actively seek.

Sure, these connections may start on Twitter or they might be extended on Facebook. But it’s a personal choice to do something with those connections – something beyond status updates and sharing links.

I keep this in mind every day in my business. As I move towards launching new classes for writers and extending the value that has been created with existing and past students, I am always looking for ways to bring us together beyond simply sharing information and moving through a curriculum. That working together will be the catalyst for reaching our collective goals – a resource and connection that lasts a lifetime.

As amazed as I am with the power of social networks to connect us – the most powerful way to extend those connections is up to each of us – to make an effort to truly connect as people, not just ‘friends’ or ‘followers’ – to create something together than goes beyond what software can provide. That these connections are owned by each of us, and what we do with them determines the shape of our lives.

973-981-8882 | Twitter: @DanBlank |