Friday, October 31, 2014

Travel Bloggers: New Media Strikes Again!

We all know the world is changing. Newspapers get thinner and thinner. Magazines disappear entirely. Five years ago the smartphone appeared. Three years ago, the tablets arrived and took over.  Most industries, except for education, the one that I'm in, get rapidly reinvented.   Through a persona connection, I just got a close-up view at another industry being turned on its head.  Travel.

Back in the day, the focal point of much travel industry marketing were travel agents and travel writers for magazines and newspapers and the travel guidebooks The resorts, hotels, cruise lines, restaurants, and travel promotion groups all had programs for hosting and encouraging this industry to pay attention to them and direct some travel and attention their way.

The wave of the future turns out to include Travel Bloggers. Hundreds, even thousands, of individuals have taken to the web to document their voyages and it turns out, this is now a key part of the marketing strategy for many companies.  And for travelers, having a widely read and followed blog and smart marketing are the key to many subsidized trips and meals.

Why do I know this? I know this because my wife is a travel blogger. Here's a few of her posts:

Hotel Danieli - Best Breakfasts Ever

Arriving in Europe at the Crack of Dawn

I went with her recently to a Travel Blogging  Conference  called TBEX in Athens Greece. It had about a thousand attendees. On one side, they had brands who were looking for exposure to the travelling public. The big areas were Greece, Cancun, and Thailand, areas that had hosted or will host a TBEX conference soon. 

On the other side, there were the travel bloggers who were looking for some help with their traveling lifestyle in exchange for attention.  Of course, many bloggers are like journalist so asking for a review is always a little risky.  Careful what you ask for!

The conference itself dealt with facilitating this marketplace. They had a blogger bridge which set up a set of speed-dating meetings between bloggers and destinations.  They had sessions for bloggers teaching them to promote their blogs and develop larger audiences. These focused on the mechanics of social media, on developing each blogger's brand, and on picking a positioning.  I didn't see any sessions on writing in ways that would both entertain and educate their audience but then, I only attended a fraction of the sessions.  Click her for more info on the  TBEX Travel Bloggers Conference.

Twitter: Getting Hands-On with Buffer

It's been awhile since I've gotten hands-on with first level marketing and first of all, I'm finding it fun, frustrating, and far-from frivolous.  Furthermore, for no real foundational reason, I'm become fixated on the letter "F".  Far out. OK, that's enough.

The metaphor that I use to understand Twitter is that it's a bit like radio.  If you want to make a splash, you think about putting up a Twitter campaign with Tweets going out regularly, many of which are repetitive or mild variations on the same.  And most of us don't really want to login and tweet many times a day so there are Twitter add-ons that allow you to schedule them.  Two leaders that I've heard about are and I'd heard that bufferapp was superior in that it allowed the embedding of images (not just the linking to them) so I signed up for Buffer.
Great Welcome Email from President Joel

Initial reaction to Buffer was fantastic. Slick modern UI and marketing which I found inspiring. In fact, I sent some of their welcome emails to my staff saying that we could take a lesson from his writing and graphical style.  I thought this was a pretty great free service and I wondered about how they would handle their effort to get me into their premium service, a business issue that we wrestle with daily.

Pretty quickly, I ran into a Buffer usage constraint. I could only put 10 tweets into my queue which, at four a day, means that I have to login ever two and a half days to put new tweets into my queue. So I put in my credit card and upgraded to their paid service.  $10/month.

When I back into the service, I found that my queue was still only 10 deep. I logged out, logged back in. Still just 10.  Switched browsers to see if it was stuck in my cache somewhere. Still 10. OK, not a simple bug, maybe that's the policy. I found their question section and asked them how much I have to pay to get more than 10 items in my queue.  The feedback process wasn't great.

When you submit the feedback, there's one somewhat unnecessary item that I guess is an effort by them to do their triage from them. It's pictured on the left.  A pulldown in which you rate the urgency of your query.  The problem is that it's too cute, not clear. I can tell what emergency means, it's high priority. But how does that compare to being stuck where nothing works?

After studying it for awhile, I decided that it was a hierarchy and that the least urgent was the top one and the most urgent was the bottom one.  But, I'm a believer in the "Don't Make Me Think" school of UI design and in this last, Not Urgent to Most Urgent would have served me better.

Worse, I didn't really get an answer. I did get an email, perhaps unrelated, that said that if I signed up for their affiliate program and someone actually signed up and paid them, I could get an extra item in my queue. That really pissed me.

So I've contacted them again and have asked the question, how much more do I have to pay to get a bigger queue. I've been through the service and it's very confusing. When I click on the page to upgrade your service, I see:

Awesome Plan. Which I think what I signed up for at $10 a month.  But then, on this page, it looks like they are marketing a higher end plan called the Awesome Plan which has a queue of 100. This is what I want.

But now I can't seem to figure out how much changing from my current plan, the unnamed plan, to the Awesome plan will cost. I've clicked around at some length and found lots of info on the benefits of the Awesome plan but no direct answer to the new monthly cost.   They keep directing me to a page that has three business plans which have all sorts of features in terms of number of users and unlimited accounts (see below) but I really can't seem to find any answer to the question of how to up my own queue to the 100 on this Awesome plan. GRRRRR.  But, I do sort of have an answer. For $50 a month, I can have an unlimited queue and all sorts of other stuff that I don't care about.  In any case, I've sent the Buffer people another feedback and we'll see if I can get an answer.

Update: Just got this tweet from bugger:

Hey there, John! I have a hunch our emails may not be making it through to you. Anything we can help with here? :)
Reviewed emails from Buffer. Nothing but standard autoresponder. Checked Spam folder. Bingo! Found email from Adam. TX 4 Follow up.
So stay tuned..... 

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Status and History of the

I should update the blogosphere on the status of the  

In its day, it was a wonderful educational experience for both the newbie and experienced;  it was a warm supportive community; and it was part of an online business.  
Blog Writing Course Logo 
Still Online, Not Active. Hibernating.

I'd like to put this update on the site but since I can't seem to figure out the login, I'll work on this draft over here on, my catch-all site for online marketing notes on SEO, social media, and blogs.  
Carmen Edelson

My reason for the update is that I'm tagging along with my wife to a bloggers conference (#TBEX) so I'm thinking about blogging plus there have been a series of recent inquiries from friends of friends who are thinking of launching similar ventures and who want to benefit from my experience. Rather than tell them the story, I thought I'd post it so everyone could benefit.

Status update.  Trumpets blare. Drums role., as was foreshadowed in my mentioning of not being able to find the login, is not being updated, maintained, or marketed at this time. The courses on the site are available for free but they are more than a little out of date.  We often think about reviving and updating the course but we have better, in the business sense, things to do with out days.  By "we," I mean the Vkidz company, an edtech publisher for students in K12.

Future Plans:  None at this moment. Still incubating and....well, licking my wounds from the first set of go rounds.  Go rounds? Yes, go rounds. It's time to reveal the history of this noble artistic-business endeavor.  Note, the names have not been changed to protect anybody. Mostly, this is a mea culpa although to be honest, I'm still not sure why it didn't work.

Back Story. I'm a real person. My name is John, Needing a job about a decade ago, I started Vkidz,  an online education company for kids and I have been running it ever since. We sell both to families and schools.  We do a lot of online marketing so I was interested in Mommy Bloggers from the start. (And teacher bloggers, PLNs, and so on).  I started the company when I was in my mid 40s and at the same time, my son started taking karate at the local dojo (Yes, all these strands are relevant).  So, I started taking karate too.

Here's the last back story item you need to know.  I have a terrible memory and I am organizationally-challenged, so I had a problem memorizing the movements of a kata. For the  99% of you that are non-martial artists, think of this as:
Start by standing at attention.
1. Look Left while Blocking Left.
2. Punch Left.
3. Step Left while looking right.
4. Block Right while Blocking Right.
 etc. right up to number 50 or a hundred.

I would try to write all these steps down and then memorize them. But I kept losing my note cards. And then people wanted  copies.  So I started a blog initially for record keeping.

The first post.  I switched blogging technology a few times at the start so the very first versions are perhaps lost.  But the first post on the blog that is still up was posted on July 6, 2006. It's about a kata known as Long One. And of course, this is not the original version of the post, the pictures and videos came later.  The first year, I mostly focused on writing up all the different kata and drills to help me remember them and share them with others. It turns out that I was not the only one who needed some help remembering, the blog started to get readers.  

My karate classes were in a group and we were all pursuing our black belts: "Black Belt Excellence is our Goal, Sir!"  Yup, we really did say things like that.  Happy times.

After a year, I broadened my blog writing from just the mechanics of the kata to describing the experience that we were going through.   I became a sort of class recorder and photographer. After an intense class or sparing match, I would post on my online diary or weBLOG. This was BFB  (Before Facebook) so it was a big deal for people to see pictures or stories about themselves on the Internet. Oh, how bright they seem, through memory's haze, those happy, golden, bygone days which were less than a decade ago!  

BTW, Facebook and my company Vkidz were both founded in the same year, 2004.  And we're both still in business. But that might be were the similarities end.

The problem: My writing sucked. My blog articles were boring, even to me.  In contrast, I had started reading a blog by a young lady known as Black Belt Moma, "Not Just Doing the Commute, But Earning the Belts."  Her stories were on the same topics as mine. She too had been drawn into pursuing a black belt by taking her kids to karate but her blog was captivating whereas mine was sort of ho-hum.  So I approached her and asked : "Why is your blog so sparkling and mine so dull?"

First of all, she didn't disagree with my assessment which I appreciated since candor is high on the list of characteristics that I appreciate. She answered coherently and graciously. Essentially, she said, "I write like a trained writer with a sense of episodes, characters, themes, and plot development. You don't. But your content is solid, interactions with readers are good, and so good luck to you."

Entrepreneurial Flash of Insight.  I wondered if there was a business in teaching bloggers? Might I I employ her as a teacher and could I could create some courses for the thousands of struggling bloggers like me? It seemed like a good idea.  Actually, it seemed like great idea. (I still think it's a great idea).  So I hired BlackBeltMama to develop and teach the courses and started one of my first business diversifications.

Black Belt Blogger was born! Still to come:

- original concept for course. Still great idea. Creative interactive fiction!  

In addition to technology and marketing, we mostly focused on these steps:

1.  Figure out who you are and what your themes should be
2.  Pick your voice and some clever packaging for your identity.
3.  Target an audience that would care

Me as a Student of the Black Belt Blogger Course
In my case, I was a middle aged father trying to earn a black belt before I turned 50. The themes from there, pretty much wrote themselves.  

I was an x jock trying to recover some feeling of youthfulness. I was a proud dad watching my son grow into his teens and a new level of self.  I was the personification of a mid-life crisis. I was like every weekend warrior comparing ice packs to hot tubs, aspirin to motrin, and chiropactory to massage.

The whole thing was fun and funny, my tone was self deprecating. It's funny to see a 50 year old breathing heavily while a 20 year instructor encourages me "to make an effort". Funnier still is that I too felt thrilled when he says that I'm making progress. My audience was the other parents like me either trying to do martial arts or thinking about it.

So along with a few dozen other students, I figured out this out in the course which we initially offered for free to a friends, friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends. 

From there (outline of article still to be written):
- thrilling first educational  experiences in taking the course.
- commercial disaster
- repeat
- repeat
Side story of  creating Time4Writing courses, writing mechanics for students 2nd-12th. Discussion of blog technology and learning management systems.
- BlackBelt Momma goes to college, ie she gets a job at a university and so we're looking around for new staffing.  (BTW, I liked working with her and I really appreciated her efforts to get the thing going. She was great.) Still, what to do?

Morphing into

- Vanilla  Repositioning from the admittedly weird and offputting blackbeltblogger concept to the very vanilla (no more scary martial art themes). 

And, more drums and trumpets, enter the spicy and saucy Topsy Techie, homeschool mother, blogger extraordinaire, and  social media pioneer.  

And lets try a new focus: self expression as marketing  for people, non profits and businesses.  This starts the golden period for the blogging experience where we seem to hit a real vein of interest, we've got the technology and pedagogy all figured out, and we actually see some paying customers....
- thrilling educational experiences
- commercial disaster
- repeat
- innovate
- thrilling educational experiences
- commercial disaster
- repeat

- innovate - remember the big blogger partnership innovation? We would partner with people with big popular blogs but no business model. We'd do a custom version of the course with them as the guest teacher and examples from their blog. They promote it on their blog to their hundreds of thousands of readers and do other not-very difficult work.   We advance them a grand for their efforts and then split the gate 50-50.  Seemed like another great idea.....
- commercial disaster
- repeat
- innovate - blog and website promotion era of the course....
Mothballed it! 

Postmortem - Still don't know what to think....A hell of an interesting effort....I wish it had succeeded. I also wish it was my worst commercial failure but i really want to get into that?

Second postmartem for you education LMS & CMS geeks. (Kris, help? Any memory of the initial google groups and typepad sequence? When did we switch to Moodle & Wordpress? Also, I'd like to post some of the showy stuff that you built and talk about the developer role.  Is the video of moving from to up on youtube or anything? I might also write about blogger v wordpress. Old blogger (with videos that disappear) vs new blogger with youtube videos). And of course, this should be a whole separate post.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Amazon knows me better than Facebook or Google.

Who Knows You Best?

I just opened  Amazon to buy a book and I was astonished at the number and accuracy of the suggestions that they suggested to me. They seemed to have 1-2 books across all the areas that I like to read about.  It was incredible how accurate and intriguing their selections were.  And I bought a few more books.

Wife's Brand, Including Facebook Page
Facebook seems to have no idea what I want.  They keep allowing game invitations to make it to me although I routinely ignore or ban every game invitation.  And many  posts that my friends make that I would have loved  to  know about, I never see.  I am the manager on half a dozen Facebook pages and I love to read and comment on there but these posts never seem to make it into my feed. They force me to click through just to fine them.  .  And my wife's blog which I religiously comment on and like, they never seem to show me.

In contrast, Google seems to be clueless about what interests me and my history. I know this is apples and oranges but when I start to type into an email address bar, Google is as likely to suggest email addresses of people that I haven't mailed to for years as they are to suggest the people that I write to ten times a day.  And don't even get me started on the random collection of posts that make it into my Google Plus feed.

Youtube is a little better and making suggestions but their responses to searches are weird.  For instance, I like to track popular and interesting homeschool curriculum review videos but when  I search on Youtube for homeschooling, they give me a totally random collection of new and old, popular and not videos.  Why? Anybody know anything about how they make their choices?

The other social media that seems to get me in LinkedIn   Their suggestions of people are often enthralling and I find myself clicking through reading about people that I know or who I would like to know.