Bump and grind

WordPress.com, of which I am a very happy user (cost = free, uptime = 100%, functionality = great and always improving) has one interesting limitation – the blog statistics one can easily access are “blog traffic,” meaning the number of site visits you get on your blog.  There’s no direct information about how many RSS subscribers you have or people subscribe to your posts by email (never mind stuff being retweeted, re-Facebooked, re-emailed).

If blogs were magazines, this would be akin to tracking how many copies you sold at the newsstand and ignoring your monthly subscriber base.

The thing is, monkey see, monkey do.  Seeing those on-site stats daily makes you care about their mostly random vacillations.  And while they do matter some – if you’re writing good content, others will link to it, repost it on social media sites, etc. so your onsite traffic will increase – they’re mostly noise compared to getting and keeping loyal readers.  For example, getting 25 new RSS subscribers is obviously more important than getting 5,000 hits on a single day (25 subscribers = ~5,000 impressions /year), but it just doesn’t feel that way.

So when something big hits that gets you visibility, there’s a natural tendency to thirst for the next big bump – the big sale, the big media hit, the big donor, the big something new.  Keeping your true fans insanely happy somehow seems like less of a victory than landing the next big customer, maybe because happy customers are often quiet, meaning there’s not as much feedback there as you’d like or need.

And so we get one big bump, one big new sale, one major new donor, and the moment things go back to normal we thirst for that next bump and the accompanying adrenaline.  It feels exciting to bring in someone new, to make that big pitch, to close the sale.  After all, isn’t big game hunting what this is all about?

Well no, actually.  This game is part hunting and part gathering, and, in the long-term, nurturing and feeding your biggest fans pays off a lot more than that next potential big win…in fact, looking off too far into the distance is a surefire way to make your most enthusiastic supporters feel like chopped liver.

That constant cultivation, the care and feeding, is the real work that makes a lasting impact.

The power of combinatory skills

Last Monday night, if you happened to be one of the 2,000+ people at Carnegie Hall, you were lucky enough to hear a powerful, arresting performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony played, perhaps for the first and last time in history, with images of victims of Pakistan’s floods illuminating the hall.  The concert was a benefit for Acumen Fund, but more than that, it was a powerful statement of the role we all have in rebuilding in the face of tragedy and destruction, and of how different worlds (classical music and Acumen Fund; an Indian conductor putting on a concert for Pakistan; Carnegie Hall and the Punjab) can come together.

George Mathew conducted that beautiful music and made the concert happen.

It’s the “making the concert happen” part that represents the future.  What makes George unique is the combinatory skills he possesses – he’s not just a trained classical musician capable of leading one of the most outstanding collections of musicians to grace the Carnegie Hall stage (though that’s a great start).  George had the vision, the gumption, the persuasive capacity, and the sheer doggedness to make this vision happen.  No one asked George to do it.  No one gave him permission. No one asked if he was qualified.

In the old days, the way forward for a classical musician (or a writer, or someone playing in a band, or starting a nonprofit or even writing cartoons) was: get as good as you possibly could at your craft and hope to win the ticket to the big time, conferred by some arbiter of taste and access.  If you’re a classical musician, you’d win the Tchaikovsky competition.  If you’re a writer, Random House would pick up your book AND decide to promote it.  In cartooning, you’d make the funny pages and be syndicated nationally.

What’s changed?

Two things:

  1. The industries into which you’re selling have transformed radically, so the power of the gatekeepers has plummeted.  Book publishing is gasping for air, the funny pages are disappearing, classical music (I hate to say) was never all that popular to begin with, and nonprofits still typically underperform, undergrow, underdream.
  2. It’s easier than ever for one committed person to pull people together, build a loyal following, to make their voice heard and sell direct.

But though the old way of doing things is on the way out, we manage to persuade ourselves that the folks who have crossed this chasm are individually exceptional – which is another way of saying “I’m not them, I don’t possess their talents, so their lessons don’t apply to me.”

So we pretend that:

  • Scott Harrison, the founder and CEO of charity:water, has such a unique story (party animal turns do-gooder) that we could never learn the lessons he has to teach.
  • No one could ever be as self-promotional as Tim Ferris, or assemble such an outrageous collection of goodies to make his book sell ($4,000,000 in prize giveaways to sell advance copies of the 4-Hour Body), so there’s little to be learned from the fact that The Four Hour Body rocketed its way to the top of the NY Times best-seller list.
  • Classical musicians are supposed to stick to the music, they don’t create magical experiences like the one George Mathew put together last week.
  • Most cartoonists don’t have MBA’s from Harvard Business School, so they’ll never have the unique collection of talents that Tom Fishburne does over at the Marketoonist.
  • And of course no other authors can really build audience like Seth Godin can…never mind what Chris Guillebeau has done over at the Art of Non-Conformity
  • And, for that matter, fundraisers are just fundraisers – they don’t have anything worth saying about emerging sectors and the role of philanthropy and markets in solving intractable problems….but of course we do.

How many more examples do we need before we understand that this is what the future looks like, and that  it’s here NOW?   How long until we recognize that the heyday of getting picked out of the pile and being catapulted to the cover of Time magazine isn’t coming back – and by the way the chances of that happening were so infinitesimally small that it was a bad deal anyway.  How long until we see that the people defending the old way of doing things are probably those who benefited from it the most, and that while we’re listening to that siren song, someone is out there doing the hard work of building audience, connecting people, sharing their art, and not shying away from the whole craft that the world is demanding of them.

(And, by the way, as Jeff reminded me, you don’t have to DO this all by yourself – teams work too, often better than a solo rockstar.)

Pretending now hasn’t arrived is just burying your head in the sand.  Saying the only thing you know how to do is to work on your craft (narrowly defined), and then bemoaning that you haven’t been discovered…that’s just hiding.

There’s nothing keeping you from embracing today today, from jumping in now, because so many people are still going to want to hide, and if you start building now, I promise you’ll get there.

I missed you

Between trying to catch up on work and a publishing glitch this morning, there was a gap in my blog posts.

I was talking to one blog reader yesterday who said, “What happened?  You didn’t post today.”

That’s great news.  If you want to influence, if you want to lead, if you want to have voice and influence, the three words you most want to hear are “I missed you.”

Think about all the noise and commotion and all the competition for people’s attention.  Think about big corporations spending millions to find a way to get to all the people who are TiVoing their favorite shows and SPAM filtering their emails and do-not-calling at home.  Think of all the BlackBerry-buzzing, iPhone-app using, Kindle-reading cacophony of communication careening through everyone’s days.

If you have broken through so much that you’re missed, you’re doing well.  And if you’re missed by 100 or 1,000 of the right people (for you!), you’ve arrived.

(Just to clarify, this post isn’t about blogging.  It’s about your organization, your product, your program, your community, your career, your voice.    It’s about you.)

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Don’t forget

Everything you write online (email, blog, twitter, text) can and will get anywhere else in an instant.  This isn’t news, but ask yourself:  do I write EVERY email/blog/tweet assuming that the people who are closest to this can and probably will read and share what I’m writing?

This isn’t just about search and the fact that web pages from 2002 still exist.  And it isn’t only about whether your party photos on Facebook might get in the way of the job you hope to get a decade from now (though that matters a lot).  It’s really about the power of tribes to amplify any idea and get that idea/thought/reflection in the right hands in an instant.

The most velocity is in tight networks where the word gets out silently and before you know it.

So why not assume that the people who know and care the most are reading everything you write, and there won’t be any surprises down the line?  The upshot is that this isn’t just risk avoidance; it forces you to think big and imagine you have exactly the audience you dream of — because you just might.

This is as much about awareness as it is about discipline each and every time you write.

(and no, I didn’t have something fall into the wrong hands.  But a few things in the last few days  got into the right hands very very quickly, and man was I happy that I was conscious about each and every word I wrote.)

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44 reasons I blog

“Why do you blog?”

I get the question a lot.  So here’s a list.  I originally wanted to come up with 99 reasons, but 44 is where I ended up.

(If you have serious additions to the list please comment and I’ll approve.  I’d still like to get to 99, and if I do I’ll repost the whole list as “99 reasons we blog”).

  1. It improves my writing
  2. It forces me to learn how use new social media tools
  3. It occasionally gives me a reason to fiddle with some HTML code
  4. It’s practice creating a written end product faster
  5. It’s a chance to experiment
  6. It’s a chance to work on my storytelling every day
  7. It’s a discipline
  8. It’s a megaphone
  9. It’s challenging to build my own tribe, from scratch
  10. It makes me to be more aware of and informed about topics that interest me
  11. It makes me a contributor to a community I respect
  12. It’s a chance to go from observation to synthesis every day
  13. It’s a diary of where my thinking is every day – and over time a reflection of the arc of where I am in my life
  14. It’s a platform…who knows where that will go?
  15. It’s free
  16. It’s become a daily habit, and I’d miss it if it were gone
  17. It makes my mom proud
  18. It’s fun to have people email me interesting things and say, “You might want to blog this.”
  19. It teaches me…about people, about writing, about technology, about storytelling.
  20. It’s an act of letting go – to take an insight and put it out in the world, asking for nothing in return
  21. I felt like I had something to say, and it turns out that I do
  22. I think storytelling isn’t just interesting, it’s important
  23. I started without a plan and in a short time have a good-sized group of readers – which means that there are a lot of people out there with shared interests who want to come together around these ideas.
  24. I don’t see anyone else out there linking up marketing, storytelling, influence, nonprofits, philanthropy, and social change…and I think these things are intimately related.
  25. I may inspire people I’ll never have a chance to meet
  26. I can share wonderful, undiscovered gems with others
  27. I’m a little compulsive
  28. I think the reality of how philanthropists think and make decisions needs to be better integrated into the dialogue about what philanthropy “should” be
  29. Marketing, storytelling, influencing, tribe-building, leading, creating, experimenting, sharing, testing, getting instant feedback…all good ways to spend my time.
  30. More people read my blog every day than read my college thesis – and that took a year to write
  31. Every so often, someone I don’t know emails me to say that something I wrote helped them
  32. Every so often, someone I do know tells me to keep it up
  33. Once you feel like (some) people are listening to you, it’s very hard to give that up
  34. Unexpected posts often strike a chord with people…and the ones I love can bore people to tears
  35. Learning what does and doesn’t work in spreading ideas online at a very low cost…THAT’S a skill that will only get more important over time
  36. Maybe, someday, if I keep at this for a few years, they’ll be a book in it
  37. And even if there isn’t, if I have a tribe of thousands of readers sharing what I’m writing with their friends, why exactly would I need to write a book?
  38. Traditional newspapers and magazines are dying a slow death.  Even if blogs aren’t the end game, distributed, independently-created content is.
  39. Beats the heck out of a resume as a portfolio and a calling card (Malcolm Gladwell suggests that blogs are the new resume…Seth Godin says maybe you shouldn’t even have a resume.)
  40. Looking back, I can’t tell which posts I thought would be “good” or “bad”
  41. Won’t it be cool 5 years from now to look back on 1,000+ posts?
  42. Now that I know I can blog, I’m not afraid of Twitter (@sashadichter, by the way)
  43. If it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something, now’s the time to start logging those hours
  44. We need more hope in the world, and I’d like to be part of that hope

(HT to the SAMBAers’ Hamster Burial Kits & 998 Other Business Ideas for the long-list idea)

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