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Two weeks ago, I made a trip to Washington, D.C. for #BestofSMS. Traveling normally stresses me out, but I realized that leveraging a few great apps can make things much easier. Here are the 5 apps that I won’t travel without: Continue Reading…

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Last week, I gave a group of artists a full introduction to Twitter along with some recommended best practices. At one point in the conversation, I pulled up my Twitter profile and explained why everything is the way it is. In that moment, I realized something: I take my profile so seriously because I judge the profiles of others.

So I’ve decided to make a list of the four things I see (or judge) when I look at your Twitter profile. Continue Reading…

This past week was an interesting one for me. I had some very unexpected interactions with brands that left an impression on me, and I thought I’d share them.

First: The Follow-Up

A couple of weeks ago I heard about the start-up Fitbay. Their website lets you put in your size and body-type and then they recommend clothing based on the information you provide. They’re currently in beta, so you have to request access and get on a waiting list. Somehow, I got quick access (my profile) and I’m already loving the site.

So @Fitbay tweeted that they’re looking for a social media manager for their young company, and I gave them a retweet because I know there are several social media savvy people who follow me on Twitter and might be interested in joining a start-up. Not too long after, @Fitbay publicly replies to thank me for my retweet.

Our exchange went on for a few more tweets, and they even mentioned that they saw I’d participated in the suggestion area of their website. Not only did they follow up with me, but they made the effort to look me up. I felt valued as a user, and I’ll continue to rave about them for a while.

Second: The Shout-Out

Around the same time I learned about Fitbay, I read about another start-up called ReadingPack. They allow users to save web articles and share them as reading lists. I signed up (my profile) thinking that ReadingPack would be an interesting solution for my coworkers and I to share articles with each other.

Then on Friday @ReadingPack tweeted about my reading pack. I was completely surprised.

Granted this is something that they’ve started doing regularly with users, but I still felt awesome that their company is paying attention to their users, including me.

Third: The Cold Shoulder

There’s this really popular blogger/leader who I follow on Twitter. (Let’s call him Hichael Myatt.) He tweets probably around 80 times a day, and though I find that incredibly annoying, some of that content is relevant to me. So I follow him anyway.

One day last week, Mr. Myatt had a malfunction in his auto-tweet software, so his tweet had special characters in the message instead of the title of his recent blog post and the link that accompanied it. So a few fellow tweeters and I replied to the message to try to get Mr. Myatt’s attention. I even went so far as to include the title and link that his tweet was missing.

Here’s a link to my reply (Warning! My reply totally gives away who the real Hichael Myatt is.): link.

Ten minutes later, the original tweet was deleted and replaced with what should’ve been in the original tweet. Which is good and fine, and I totally understand why Mr. Myatt (or the person running his Twitter account) might’ve done that. But it was also an opportunity to show a little humanity, to reach out to some very concerned and connected users. Instead, he hit delete, erasing it from existence.

(This wouldn’t be so bad if this wasn’t the fifth time I’ve tweeted at Mr. Myatt when he’s tweeted for help on a topic. Never once have I seen him reply to someone who has replied to his tweets.)

Conclusion: The New Truth

Social conversation is the new marketing. It turns users into advocates, brand reps. And it’s way cheaper than advertising.

Brands need to be aware of the importance of conversation on social media. My three examples are interactions that I take as personally as if I had spoken with a representative in-person. And they can rest assured that I’ll be sharing their story, content, and brand with my friends, family, and followers.

Game BoyI had a dream a few nights ago that I was trying to give an old Game Boy new parts that would allow it to be its own NES emulator and more. I kept trying to get more and more out of the technology.

That is something I do on a daily basis because I recognize the power of the hardware and software I use, and I want to stretch them to take full advantage of their capabilities.

Then something hit me: Am I stretching myself to the extent of what I can achieve?

The answer to that is a little difficult. Yes, I’m in a place right now where I’m creating writing content five nights a week. I’m not really challenging myself to learn technical stuff (like jQuery and JavaScirpt). And I’m not running as much as I want to right now. But I guess I’m okay with the last two not being stretched as long as I’m writing.

A little later, something else hit me: Am I stretching my friends and coworkers to the extent of what they can achieve?

I don’t mean that to seem like I want to use my friends to benefit myself. I mean that, as a good friend and coworker, I need to be helping others realize the potential in themselves, or I need to be helping them with stuff they’re working on.

This was a huge gut-check moment, because the answer is an embarrassing “no.” I can take an easy cop-out and say I’m just not wired that way. But I’m man enough to take this one on the chin. I’m not doing much to help or encourage my friends—and there’s no amount of writing I can do for myself that will make me feel better about this answer.

So I’m going to try to ease into turning my “no” into a “yes” by asking close friends and coworkers How can I help you? and taking things forward from their.

At work, I only keep emails in my inbox when I have to take action on them. Right now, I have 18 emails in that inbox. The sad news is that I haven’t had that inbox empty for about two years, but I’m making a goal to have it at zero by July 1.

My personal inbox is a completely different story. I leave emails unread if I need to take action on them or if I don’t want to deal with them or if I don’t have time for them. I just didn’t have the time to get it under control.

Enter Mailbox

The Mailbox app has been getting a lot of hype since it had over 800,000 people on its wait list a month ago. It took me  three weeks before I finally made it to the front of that line, and boy was I immediately disappointed.

Why was I disappointed? Because I had 483 emails in my Gmail inbox that Mailbox wanted me to clear.

(Side note: Mailbox only connects to Gmail right now.)

Granted, Mailbox was created to make emails easy to clear from an inbox, but I didn’t want my thumb to go numb as I tried to clear them all at once.

Fortunately for me, I was inpatient.

Enter Mailstrom

While I was somewhere between 400,000 and 200,000 in line for Mailbox, I went looking for another solution that might be similar to Mailbox but without a long wait. After some hunting, I found Mailstrom, which is currently in beta and has a wait list. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to be in two wait lists, so I signed up and found myself much closer than Mailbox being 11,000 in line.

Though this line moved slower than the Mailbox line, I was at the front soon enough and I was floored by what followed.

Mailstrom sorted my emails by sender, subject line, time, social network, and more, which made sorting them into folders much easier. Each time I selected a folder to sort the emails into, Mailstrom gave me the option of setting a rule so that all emails from that sender/with that subject line/etc. would go into that folder. SO HELPFUL!

Before I knew it, I had just two emails in my inbox.

(Before I skip ahead, let me say something about my Gmail emails. Most of them are personal or social network related. Though a lot of those emails get replied to right away, some just sit there. So I followed this piece of advice from an interview with Guy Kawasaki: “You can delete anything 21 days and older, and it won’t matter.” I went through the last three weeks, made sure nothing important was in there, and I moved all of those emails into folders—because I’m too afraid to actually delete emails.)

Back to Mailbox

I opened up my Mailbox app and it looked beautiful. With two quick swipes, my inbox was empty. And I rejoiced.

 

Since that day…yesterday…I have kept my personal inbox at zero, and I plan to keep it there.

It isn’t long in any conversation before I reference an article I’ve heard on NPR or read online. But recently those news sources have become slightly inconvenient.

Take NPR for example. I generally only listen to it while I’m driving, so the amount of time I’m listening is limited to my commute. Also, I have no control over the articles that I hear, and sometimes I’m driving when a show totally irrelevant to my life (i.e. The Morning Shift—a hyper-local show about living in Chicago city limits) is on.

Then there are online articles. Thousands of them posted daily, often on the same topic, and I have to pick and choose my news sources and filter through different categories and get infuriated with spending ten minutes to find two interesting articles.

Then I heard about Umano—an app that provides audio files of articles, recorded by professional readers, for users to listen to.

And the way I get news has been transformed.

The app has features for users to download stories for offline listening, share stories on social media, and everything else you would want from a podcast app.

But it gets better.

For an app that’s breaking out right now, Umano seems to have its audience pegged. It seems to me like of the articles are about tech, science, business, and economics—all topics I’m deeply interested in. But beyond that, the sources of those articles are mostly from websites I trust: LifeHacker, Forbes, PandoDaily, Fast Company, and the like.

And, in my opinion, the readers are rock stars. These guys (yes, Umano only has male readers right now) do a great job of reading articles with voices not that far from what I’d expect on NPR (though I haven’t feel like the Umano readers are ever trying to slow down their tempo to suck up airtime on a slow news day).

Overall, this is one of the apps I’ve come to use on a daily basis, and it’s changed how I take in information. Definitely give it a try.

In 2013, I resolve to use social media more.

While a lot of people are resolving to use social media less this year, I’m asking for more.

Let me explain myself.

I would guess that I’ve read about 10-15 articles about tech and current events nearly every day for the last two years. Those articles keep me well-informed about global and domestic issues and new technologies that are quickly changing the landscape of our world. They aid me in my job and keep me thoughtful in my writing.

Where do I find most of these articles? Through social media.

So, if social media aids in my cultural awareness and personal growth, why wouldn’t I want more?

Now, I’ve read a lot of articles about productivity where the author tells readers to get away from Facebook and Twitter if they’re looking to accomplish anything. In most cases, I disagree.

I have a friend who is a photographer. She’s talented and looking for ways to promote herself better online. She needs to be leveraging Facebook every day. Sure, she may have some important photos that need to be edited right away, but if she jumps onto Facebook to see what her friends got for Christmas, she’s actually making things better for herself. The friend whose pictures she just liked is someone who knows her, someone who is likely refer one of their friends to her when they get engaged/married/pregnant. Even time “wasted” in social media can be beneficial to her business.

I have another friend who is finishing grad school for architecture. It may not make as much sense for him to be on Facebook, but who’s to fault him if he spends a half hour here and there on Pinterest? Every once in a while I see him pinning, and it’s sometimes related to his thesis. So what if he pins a recipe or two that he hopes his wife will make? Just after those pins, he finds something interesting that he may want to incorporate in his next project. Social media is helping him get his masters.

I’m not saying that everyone should be on Facebook more. I don’t think that continually reading the thoughts and opinions of those you get along with the most makes you relavent in today’s world.

I’m not saying that everyone should be on Twitter more. I think we need to start thinking in more than 140 characters.

I’m not saying that everyone should be on Instagram more. Your friends don’t want to see another Starbucks cups with the X Pro II filter.

I’m not saying that everyone should be reading blogs more. Sometimes we need news from people who are paid to write it because they have legitimate sources and they keep our country’s grammar standards at a respectable leve.

I AM saying that there has never been a better place of opportunity to make ourselves better than what social media presents us with today. 

You no longer need a library card, a newspaper subscription, or to be sitting in front of your TV for the thirty minutes they tell the most depressing news stories possible in order to stay current.

When my grandfather was my age, he started every morning with the local newspaper. I start every morning looking through my Twitter feed and reading reddit’s front page. Sure, I see more adorable cats in my news than he ever did, but that doesn’t make me a bad person. (Actually, it may make me a more productive person.)

So that’s why I’m going to use social media more this year. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but it may be worth considering.