Writing To Pay The Rent

This isn’t just about writing for income, and I will say that right at the beginning so no one is confused. But it is going to touch on that topic.

When I first arrived on the blogging scene, I really didn’t know what it was all about, but many who were beginning to blog at the same time had a much more concrete view of what the purpose of their writing would be. Many of those writers/bloggers were inspired by a man named Hugh Hewitt to begin their blogs with the view to change people’s world views. I should amend that to say “Christian and conservative” writers and bloggers. The people of liberal politics had long seen the value in using media to persuade people’s thinking.

But whether bloggers of that time were convinced by a specific person, or of the many who had chanced upon this new door to influence, many of us were of the mind that our writing could “make a change for good”. I know that was always a powerful motivation for me.

It still is, but blogging and online writing has changed for many like me.

It’s A Slow Train

It was a slow train coming for me to adopt the idea that writing and earning money were linked. Or could be, or should be.

And I still believe that one must be careful with one’s motivations, not just in writing, but in all endeavors of life. I also understand that without some sort of support, no writer can keep at their craft for long. This is perhaps one of the biggest evolutionary changes for me: if you keep on writing, over time you find you become “a writer”.

In the meantime, I took a break from writing to influence people’s thinking. After spending a good deal of time in online forums, and the dialog that was common on blogs is those days (early years of 2000 to 2007 or so), I grew tired of what online “conversation” had become. No longer exploring differing opinions, creating dialog, or even giving a rational argument for one’s view. Like the rest of the world around it, the web sunk into the morass of polarized diatribe, pandering, and propaganda. It wasn’t fun anymore, then, either.

Yet, there is something very attractive in the way a person, of no means really, can engage in discussion and a public presentation of views, and touch the possible thousands. That is heady stuff. So, I kept on writing and started exploring the world of online income… some of the things which are called passive income, but truthfully aren’t passive at all.

This was a natural road for me since I had started my web experience with non-fiction types of writing… my garden website‘s nascence sprung from the pages begun at that time. In retreating from the hotbed of politics and religion I found solace (as a writer and blogger) in the garden. In the need to pay for the nuts and bolts of such a thing, I began monetizing. Not the easiest thing to do in my chosen set of topics.

Another thing happened along the way… aging.

The focus of life has shifted, and the reality of needing to produce some income for retirement has also become part of my intention for developing my writing online. This has created multiple motivations for branching out into other sorts of writing and interacting online. And let’s not forget the online revolution itself… Facebook and Twitter have mightily changed online writing and all sorts of things.

I still have not forgotten that desire to impact people, to influence society for good (or goodness sake!). I am just not sure how it all works together, or even whether it can.

Paying The Rent

Earning even a small amount of income online is a lot of work. In fact, for a person like me who is not business savvy, I could not write, if I were dependent on its income. Still, some of the things I do are paying for website hosting for my other sites (this one is free, and I own only the content – not the domain). I have ventured into the world that others entered long time back…. writing for income. This I do on sites like SquidooThis site was sold and no longer exists as a home to writers as recorded in this post, and just this week a few articles on Hubpages. They are looked down upon by some in the blogging community, and I understand why. The impetus now is for these sites to clean up the junky parts of the neighborhood.

I like that a format like Squidoo creates community. I haven’t found that in the blogging sector for a long time. I also like that it is set up to create online income for those who contribute. And I have stretched my writing wings in the more mundane aspects of writing. Which is not to demean it. Why be elitist about our writing? I have distaste for this kind of thinking that is so prevalent in the art world.

So, here I am starting to write on Hubpages, too.

I also have learned some marketing along the way which is very enlightening. You view things in our society a whole new way when understanding basic marketing techniques. We are immersed in it whether we realize it or not. Just look at the sales ploy of “scarcity”, for example…. but I digress.

What reasons might be for writing on such sites as Squidoo, or Hubpages, or even Blogger, for that matter?

  1. They share their income with the creative
  2. On the web, promotion is as important as creation. No one will just show up at your blog or website, anymore
  3. It is a free way to get instruction on almost anything, not least on how to earn money online; okay, maybe this is done a little too well.
  4. You network without realizing you are networking
  5. It encourages you to widen your horizons, the way surfing webpages used to “in the old days”

For me, the Squidoo site helped open things that I had long had an interest in but had no grasp of what it took to accomplish. One of those was utilizing the Zazzle site to create and to earn income. I am still making baby steps, but without guidance (and clearly the forums attached to such sites help,too) would still have gone nowhere with these avenues.

My Affiliation on These Sites

If you would like to read more about my thoughts on these sites, making an income online, etc. Check my WebHelp blog.

Community is powerful. It is necessary as well, and the sooner we learn that lesson in family, our neighborhoods and cities, and online, the better. It is just an illustration of “no man is an island” which we will face over and over until we “get it”.

Ah. Now you see I am only one step away from “soapboxing”, or influencing as I like to call it.

Maybe this part of learning what can help me pay the rent is obvious to you. I have an inkling that for individualists who have a high value on personal freedom, it is a hard won realization.

Paying the rent is not just about money. It isn’t about a materialistic society, it is about how we help each other survive and thrive. Work is important and necessary. All sorts of work -and having integrity and honesty in how we go about it- matters.

One more thing, influence is something we do everyday in all our actions, whether we realize it or not.

Telling People They Are Awesome

My disclaimer on this post is that I’m going to use illustrations that come from my experience in the church, but don’t think that people act like typical people just because they belong to a certain socio-economic or religious group. If you do that, you are going to miss the whole point.

You’re Totally Awesome, Dude

Pixie Dust and The Wizard Behind The Curtain

Before I get to that story, let me tell you about an old blogpost I re-read from Kathy Sierra. Called “Pixie Dust & The Mountain of Mediocrity. The gist is that people use marketing techniques to game the system and it’s that “pixie dust” that is promoted to be the magic answer to the branding and promotion of ones product.

It is not unlike the last topic, taking to task the online and marketing Gurus who provide methods, for a fee, to making you and/or your customers (clients..fans….whoever you want to win over) an overnight success. Even if they are well-meaning, plenty of so-called experts aren’t really helping you to be what truly makes you awesome: being the best you can be, living to your potential, inspired to rise to greater heights of what you hope to be or accomplish.

Buzzwords, Buzzword techniques, and the fast path to wealth and awesomeness is something people will pay for, and that means a lot of gamers are going to enter the field to make sure they can take advantage of it. That also means there is going to be an aftermath of broken dreams, and the disillusioned.

Sierra succinctly sums it up:

There is a world of dif­fe­rence bet­ween hel­ping someone *appear* more awe­some and hel­ping them actually BE more awesome.

And that in some ways reminded me of a small, but rather sorry, experience I had a long time ago that left me with a distinct sense discomfort that helped shape how I like to deal with people to this day.

A Moment of Clarity

I had gone to one of those big Christian conferences that are comprised of all sorts of people from different denominations, cultures, and backgrounds. It was one that had really pumped up my own sickly and struggling grip on walking out my faith. It wasn’t called a Revival, but it was effectively working as one for me.

Maybe because of that, I was a bit more open, hopeful, and vulnerable to what people said to me. Anyway, after one of the services (there are several at this sort of convocation), a well meaning man spoke to me. He said something very positive, something like “I see you are -positive ‘blah,blah,blah’, and you will -positive ‘blah,blah,blah'”. I felt very encouraged, I felt that he had been moved by some inner insight to share that with me.

As the conference moved on I happened to pass by that man speaking to someone else, using the very same words, the very same expression, the very same way. They weren’t special insights meant for me. This well meaning man was gaming the system.

I suppose he felt this was his ministry of encouragement or something, but for me, it was a searing disappointment, because it didn’t feel real. It didn’t feel sincerely anything. I felt my sense of trust was breached and trampled. I didn’t ask for his words, and wasn’t even hoping or looking for them. He offered me something artificial, when I truly needed the genuine. He sprinkled around some pixie dust, because it had good effects on people. For him.

And to this day, as convinced as I am of the importance of affirmation and encouragement, if I cannot garner together the individualized and sincere words that are infused with my own sense of care and compassion, or affection or desire to connect… I don’t want to give a substitute. I don’t believe in “placeholder” love, that consists of words or token actions merely meant to make someone feel good for the moment.

That is a terribly selfish thing to do. It is pixie dust spread around to make the giver feel better about themselves. If you tell someone they are awesome with that motivation, spare them.

They are better off without your false words and insincere methods. The world is better off without them.

How To Tell Someone They Are Awesome

First -to outline the negative shape before drawing in the detail- do not tell someone how much they matter or how great they are when showing them is better. Words will often cloud the message, even if you intend to mean them. That too often turns into “meaning well”, and you know what the old saying is about good intentions.

If words are all you have, tell people something that you can follow through on… a generally inclusive way of telling them they matter and are awesome “I look for the beauty and glory in you”… because I look for that in all. And then make that your purpose, your own rule of life.

Do something for them that helps them be the best version of themselves.

Then when you tell them you think they are awesome, or that they matter to you, they will trust it, and it will build something meaningful into their lives.

Give them tools of value, words of value, and actions of value. Take something of yourself, and invest it in those tools, words, and actions. Infuse something of your love and care into what you give to others. That will make them feel awesome. Then you can tell them they are awesome and might even have an opportunity to share something that will make them even more awesome.

The outcome of that is what they do with that thing themselves, what they get to experience from it.

This has its way of spilling over and making us feel pretty awesome as well, but that is not the goal or the point of what we tell others, or what we share with them.

What Am I Really Saying?

What really works is love. Love is never cheap, and has no substitution. Everyone needs and wants it, and when you give words or anything to another person with real love attached, you give the world what it really needs.

Pixie dust looks pretty tawdry in the real light of day, and quite unnecessary.
Spirit of the Night

Spirit of the Night
Grimshaw, John…
Buy This Allposters.com

When Business Gets Hold of Social Media

I moaned some number of years back (1999) about the degrading effect that would result from the web turning from an information highway to a marketing one. Now, it is fait accompli, with so many content-empty or sparse websites and blogs filling up the internet.

Blogs saw an early symptom in the flood of spamming in the comments and the spammy scrapers (those sites that use rss content to publish others content on their sites). I’ve actually seen “sites” that were nothing but google ads under category titles. In this vein, an article is exposing the dark side of SEO… and not even just “black hat” SEO.

Search-engine subterfuge hits Google traffic has this (among other things) to say:

“SEO would become an industry.

How can you tell it works? When you do a search and are led to pages and pages of odd sites with lots of advertising or things to sell, that’s when you know. Many companies are so good at it, they specialize in loading up the net with sites designed to rise to the top, using every trick in the book. “

“This is killing the search experience for many people. A half billion have left the grid and retreated into the cloistered world of Facebook. Both Facebook and Twitter have looked at the SEO attacks on Google and both think they might be able to do search better using social networking tools. “

Now you and I both know that there is a mad clamor to try to monetize Facebook and Twitter in ways that can make them pay off like these SEO and marketing of website tactics. I am not at all against business or business use of the internet, it is the demise of the web as an information and educational medium that bothers me.

I have found myself using Facebook more and more as a blog of the “tumblr” type, although it isn’t the way I choose to interact publicly. Twitter has been more conducive to an accessible way of publicly sharing thoughts and preference, as well as recommendations, but like blogging proper, of old ( how ironic that sounds! blogs of yore), it is still exploring many sorts of expressions. Some very businesslike, some very diary-like.

Bettering Your Business Through Social Media

I blog, twitter, and facebook. Each has its uses, and a recent experience made me aware of how they impact a business.

If you read my garden blog, you might know that I have about four acres of property, close to three which need regular mowing. This is the height of the mowing season, and we had already replaced the hand mower earlier, but then the deck mower finally rusted out after 23 years (it was a John Deere brand). They sometimes say “bad luck comes in threes”, but two mowers breaking down at the height of the mowing season this year was enough for me.

We decided that we needed a machine that could mow this size property and navigate around the trees and gardens in a better manner than a tractor with a rear deck mower. A “zero turn” mower seemed like the solution, and after due diligence in researching brands, the ‘Toro’ was decided upon. Next came shopping the outlets for such mowers.

Home Depot matched the price and we purchased from their store.

The rest of the story….

That should have segued into a happy ending… but then I wouldn’t have a post centering around bettering your business and the part social media plays in that. The trouble started when the said “new” mower was delivered. My husbands habit is to be here when there is an important delivery… and so he was. The new mower arrived uncrated, and on inspections, was covered over in scratches and had rust issues. My husband refused it on the spot.

This mower had been used. By someone somewhere -and now was being passed off as a new product. That, right there, is what made me so angry.

I take a lot of sometimes poor service from a business. I chalk it up to someone having a bad day, or the luck of the draw, or that sometimes stuff happens, and I don’t like to make waves unnecessarily, but I have learned it helps to speak up. In this instance, the sheer dishonesty of sending off a clearly unsatisfactory product to a customer paying for a new item was just plain wrong. It was wrong for me, and wrong for the next guy it might be foisted upon.

The Power of Squawk…

So I used the power of social media to squawk my complaint. It isn’t that I don’t believe I couldn’t have gotten satisfaction another way (through negotiation by complaining to the store manager,etc). My husband was doing that, but my own goal was to hopefully improve the way business gets done, for myself and for other customers, AND get a quick resolve on the issue. Any midwesterner with three acres of fast growing grasses, a rainy May weather pattern, and no mower, knows my need for a speedy resolve in this issue.

But that is the benefit of social media for the consumer, not for the business. For the business, social media is like a big PR machine. You want happy customers talking about how great your business is, not magnifying your poor service and below par product.

This home improvement store should have had more quality control, because bottom line, it is a good buying experience and a quality product that is going to make me happiest, and to give repeat business. And blog, tweet, and facebook that happiness- besides the Yelp reviews, et al….

Lots of businesses are investing in hiring bloggers, professional social media people, etc. to promote their businesses, but if they aren’t taking care of the customer in the store- it is all waste of time, space, and money.

How it was resolved and the lessons of that….

Home Depot

  • delivered a brand new, uncarted mower in reasonable time
  • apologized both verbally, and in handwritten letter for the trouble and inconvenience
  • included a gift card with the written apology

Those steps went a long way to assuage the anger, but I came across a business maxim that presents the lesson best learned by businesses in this post:

The bitterness of low quality is remembered l-o-n-g after the sweetness of too low pricing is forgotten

That is also true for the experience of feeling bunked by a business after they have tried to mop up the mess and attempted to make things right for the consumer.

As I remarked on my twitter account: people will RT ( Retweet, or multiply the message) a rant far more often than they will RT the satisfaction of the complaint.

Since my husband and I are also long time D-I-Yourselfers, and write a blog about the experiences of remodeling, etc. Home Depot would have benefited far more from just delivering on their goods and service in a quality controlled way, than anything that might have been gained from trying to unload a second rate piece of merchandise.

They didn’t know this customer blogged and twittered.

But now they do.

Businesses who pay attention to responses from their customers, or those of related businesses can learn about what is important to them and their customers. They can discover the priority of business practices without having their CEO needing to go undercover to find out how to improve.

And that is what makes social media a win-win for everyone, because I don’t want to rant and rave about poor service or second rate merchandise. I want to have a happy shopping experience and get my lawn mowed.

On the other side of it, people who relate within social media have responsibilities to be fair, and to try to better their world. I wrote about that at an earlier time, 5 Things The Web Taught Me.

Web User Data

Forrester Research data —

– 19% of US internet users are Creators, who publish blogs, maintain websites, or upload self-created photos, podcasts or videos on social sites.

– 25% of US internet users are Critics, who post ratings and reviews of products and services on user review sites, comment on someone else’s blogs or contribute to online forums or wikis.

– 12% of US internet users are Collectors, who create metadata that’s shared with the entire community, by aggregating RSS feeds in a feed reader, by saving or tagging URLs on a social bookmarking service, or by voting for websites on a social voting site.

– 25% of US internet users are Joiners, who visit and maintain profiles on social networking sites.

– 48% of US internet users are Spectators, who read blogs, online forums and customer ratings/ reviews, listen to podcasts and watch peer-generated video.

– 44% of US internet users are Inactives, who do not participate at all in social media activities.

So which one are you?

Things I Learned In Forums

If this seems like a strange post out of nowhere- although on my blog who could tell?) I decided I would go through past drafts and try to work on them if they still seem to hold some interest. So here for your reading pleasure are thoughts that something in the past inspired. Originally posted 01/04/06

Lots of bloggers end up running into the social dynamics of large groups interacting in dialogue. Some feel bruised and discouraged. Some give up, or close down, because the group changes the initial intention of the blog. One thing for sure about knocking up against lots of different people: it will change you in some way.

Watch out when the wrath of the pack has been aroused. The pack is something I learned about in online forums. Along with observing affiliations and finding the profile of the “Big Dog”. Forums were[are] a great source of human psychology education.
Continue reading Things I Learned In Forums

Use Twitter Well

I’ve been using twitter for awhile (2060 tweets), and have found myself less enthralled with it, but still interested and hoping to craft my use of it. Maybe you are,too or maybe you are just looking into it. One of the blogs that have expertise is Twitip. Today there was a post on Follow Friday… that hashtag meme where you take time on Friday to recommend people to follow.

In a post about the #followfriday practice some great guidelines that I like were put forth:

Clearly, FollowFriday remains a popular phenomenon and while I have noticed some improvements in how some people make their recommendations, there are still far too many who simply don’t exercise good FollowFriday etiquette. Proper etiquette could include (but is certainly not limited to) the following:

* Limit your recommendations to only the absolute best people.
* Explain why you recommend someone.
* Spread your tweets throughout the day via scheduling services like Tweetlater (currently rebranding themselves as SocialOomph, Futuretweet or Hootsuite.
* If making multiple recommendations, send them in small, logically organized groups.

I especially like including the second recommendation- it gives context and personal meaning to the whole reason to follow someone.

Sarah Palin Shows the Hiccups in Social Media

When blogging came into its own, I found it quite exciting to have a platform to share conversations on religion and politics with the world. In my real world life I found too few interested or comfortable with that sort of conversation, the topics being either too controversial or wrangling for most peoples taste. (At least among those here in a Midwestern, and certainly Church circles). Social media developed a place where those who liked to talk and debate for sake of thinking things out were welcomed,… and yet, as the saying goes, “Something’s rotten in Denmark”.

As Twitter came along, I adopted that, as well. The internet has become an intellectual stew for creating new recipes of thinking, and connections across the world have become congealed. News flies fast, and rumors with their lightweight coverings, faster. It changes how politics on the grand stage is done, now, too.

But here is where the hiccups show up in the way the system of communication is utilized; and I think it is because in politics the personal mores have most easily broken down. The goal is everything, the means nothing in that world, for many.

The latest manifestation of this, and what inspired this little diatribe is the rumor of a Palin divorce which spread through Twitter finding source in an obscure Alaskan bloggers pen. This, according to Mashable. Which also, by the way, shows the clumsy way that social media is used to create and diffuse rumors and news. I suppose the idea is to fight fire with fire, but it also exposes how the manner of democratizing the ability to publicize also has degenerated its accountability to a moral standard of delivering things with truthfulness and responsibility to facts. I never thought I’d say that. Perhaps it is the lightning quick run of Twitter which has broken through the accountability barriers of blogging.

I think we are going to have to reassess some of our views of how social media is used and what it is good for, because right now the rot is threatening to undermine what has been a grand experiment in expanding our freedom of expression.

Another lesson in contrasting true freedom with license, and how human nature will revisit these definitions time and time again.

Does New Media Make Us As Powerful As We Think It Does?

I followed a twitter link to Unveiling the New Influencers from the PR2.0 blog. It was the usual (well, better than usual) ‘social media’ empowers us post. But the caveat offered in the comments highly interested me (quoted in entirety below).

I think that new social media does empower many of us in ways that were not imagined previous to the explosion of blogs, and twitter, etc. Yet, I also agree that once the main power brokers negotiated the ways to manipulate these forms of communication, things have not changed so much as they appear.

That is not a complaint, by the way. Not complaining because more empowerment of individuals and freedom to speak is always a benefit, and not to be scoffed at (not that I think anyone is doing that, just saying). Blogging has changed, as one person observes,”do you spend an hour reading an in-depth piece on the Net? Not a chance, this kind of type and display is really hard to read (which is why Net articles are now really, really short).” We are no longer looking so much for information with which to do critical thinking as short bytes of commentary on what the guys at, say, NYT present to us. Two steps forward and one step back, you might call that.

Read Lelia Thomas’ comment and tell me what you think.

Lelia Thomas:

As much as I agree with the ideals of posts like these, I think one is choosing to be ignorant if he or she actually believes consumers have changed the world through social media, or that communication is really as open as this post suggests. We have certainly altered the world. There is no question of that. That is how a free market economy works (and most of us in OECD nations have at least some small form of that, though we all have a fair bit of Keynesian economics at work, too).

What we experience today is most certainly more democratized, personalized and customized; however, the most-visited news sites on the web, at least in English-speaking OECD nations, are owned by the same companies that have existed for decades, some even before the foundations of the Internet were laid in the 60s. If our information economy was truly democratized, I could mention citizen journalists and citizen journalist websites, indie musicans and artists, and people would know what or who I’m talking about. However, at age 22, most of the people even in my demographic are largely unaware of what exists outside of the main players and their products (for news or otherwise). This is clearly evident, as well, when one looks at the top-followed users on sites like Twitter.

The conversations we have on the web largely influence us and our feelings about each other, but the influence we have on powerful conglomerates, which undeniably and unfortunately dictate much of what even becomes law, is negligible. If it weren’t, we would not have groups like the RIAA suing the pants off of people at the tune of $80,000 to $150,000 per illegally downloaded song, flying in the face of all just processes. No matter one’s opinion about filesharing, most would agree that the results of these trials are not fair, and most have been vocal about that…and yet the law stays the same, because our voices, online, off, etc. are not as powerful as the lobbying men and women in Washington.

My point is that a lot of these services are indeed great, but I sometimes wonder how much they just placate us, leading many to believe that we have a lot more control than we really do. I would definitely say that of all the services that have come out to date, Twitter comes the closest to decentralizing and liberating everything. I love that. We have a long way to go, though. Companies may be listening, but most often it’s only halfheartedly. Surely most of us, as consumers, are aware of this.

One way, that homeschoolers and then later the political campaign machine of President Obama, people have utilized the power of these new media forms is in what I heard called “the lightning fast” alert and delivery system of massing opinion quickly to put pressure on a political concern. That is still one application of these means to increase individual power and say. But just as marketers have quickly caught on and spread their message virally, so too, the political institution will be as savvy at mimicking the independent voice of the common man. And it will be “the Man” again. Until then, blog on… and twitter freely.