All posts by Mitch Mitchell

I'm an independent consultant in many fields, so I have a lot to share.

Shai Coggins – Social Media Maven, Blogger, Mother And Therapist!

I’m really glad to get this interview, and y’all need to pay attention to it. I first came across Shai Coggins many years ago on Ryze, and she was a big deal even then. She was traveling all over the world speaking at blogging and social media conferences, being interviewed in newspapers, and showing up on TV shows. She worked with B5Media and was one of the earliest contributors to About.com, where she had her own column. At the same time she was starting motherhood and studying for a masters in Applied Psychology (Singapore) and Teaching (Special Education). She’s also an artist, photographer and model. I know you’ll enjoy this interview and will learn a lot from it:


Shai Coggins

1. Tell us something about yourself.

It’s always interesting to figure out the best way to introduce oneself in these situations. A life summary is always different, depending on who you’re talking to.

In this case, I think I’ll go this route:

I’ve been a web professional for over a decade now. And I love the online world. But, I do have a life outside of that, including being a mum to two young kids, a wife to an Englishman, a postgrad student, and a manager of content and community at a nonprofit organisation. But that last bit also has a lot of online stuff involved, so maybe that doesn’t count as an offline life.

Oh, and I love travel, reading, movies, writing, art making, food, baking, the beach… Wait, hang on. That’s another life summary for a different purpose. 🙂 If you’re keen to find out more, I Tweet (http://twitter.com/shaicoggins) a bit, I FB (http://facebook.com/shaicoggins), and I’m in just about every other social media platform you can think of. And, just between us (and your wonderful readers!), I’m about to launch my new professional blog, http://enkindlers.com (currently at http://enkindlers.wordpress.com/). Still a bit sparse in there, but at the moment, I’m hoping to put all my blogging, social media, and other content and community-related tips in that one central location, primarily for the community sector.

2. How did you get into blogging?

I’ve always loved writing. I kept journals from a young age. And, I’ve loved the idea of travel and other cultures all my life. That’s why I enjoyed having pen pals, especially from overseas.

So, when I heard about this thing called the Internet, where I can connect and talk to several people from anywhere in the globe, I knew immediately that I had to go on it. Never mind that I was no techie and I hated my computer classes in high school and college.

When I finally got online around 1997/1998, I started a website shortly after I got the hang of using email and IRC. There was a section in that Geocities website that I allocated a journal-type area, which looked very much like the blog we know today. Except it was hand-coded using the built-in web editor and FrontPage. And a lot uglier, with those horrid graphics and blinkies.

3. What was it like writing for About.com and many of the other organizations you wrote for and participated with?

I had two rounds of being an About.com Guide. First, I became the Language Arts for Kids Guide, back when they had a children’s channel. I loved the creativity that was involved in building that site from the ground up. Plus, I really enjoyed learning from and working with my fellow kids channel guides. They were a wonderfully smart and creative bunch. Unfortunately, that came to an end shortly after 9/11 and the dot com bust.

The second time I became a Guide was in 2004, as one of the first blogging guides around. I enjoyed the challenge of staying up to date with technology and writing for a different demographic. Particularly, ones who were pretty much the pioneers of the world that we now know as the social media universe. It was great, experimenting with the latest blogging software and being one of the first to get in to podcasting and video blogging.

Writing for About.com in particular was a really great time for me because I did learn a lot from them. Many of the things I know about SEO, web architecture, and content strategy, I learned first in that place. So, I will always be grateful that I’ve had that experience.

About.com also helped me to launch my own blogging network, which later merged with b5media, which then became a VC-funded online venture that brought a lot of interesting experiences too.

4. You added video early into blogging; how did that come about?

It was primarily through my work at About.com, as I said. I learned about video blogging and decided to give it a go. And later on, About.com encouraged its Guides by launching this video making competition, where I won 2nd place and $1,000 cash prize for making a video on video blogging. Yes, very meta, I know. Fun times.

5. At one time about 5 years ago you were known as one of the most powerful women in blogging, and you’ve had so many accolades and awards; how does that make you feel?

Uhmm… thinking that it was all 5 years ago make me feel old and out of touch. Was it really that long ago? 🙂

Okay, seriously… Of course, the accolades and awards were great because they acknowledged the work I did. But, I also know that they weren’t the end all and be all of things. I’m grateful for those things because I know a lot of people work really hard and they don’t always get the recognition that they deserve.

I think I’m just lucky that I got in to blogging quite early and so I was part of the excitement at the beginning. It was incredible to think that once upon a time, I was able to say, “Hey, have you heard of Google?” and the answer back then was “No, what is it?” many times. I really should have bought shares then!

And yeah, in the early days, whenever I talked about blogging, podcasting, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, people’s eyes glazed over. Now, it’s all mainstream. So, it’s much, much harder to stand out. Now that many people have discovered these tools, we’re seeing an influx of great talent all over the world. It’s great.

6. For a short time you weren’t blogging much, working on some other endeavors. Did you find it hard getting back into blogging?

Having a break from blogging was something I needed at the time. With everything that went on, I felt burnt out from my online life.

And yes, every time I do stop blogging for a while, I find it harder to get back in to the groove of things. In fact, I have to admit that I think I’m still not blogging as much as I would like. Definitely nowhere near like I used to. I keep hoping to change that eventually.

7. You’ve spoken at social media conferences and at blogging events. Is that exciting, and do you love meeting people?

At first, I found it terrifying. I really don’t consider myself a public speaker, even though I do enjoy teaching and meeting people. It’s weird, but when I started presenting again, I was freaking out so much, it literally hurt. However, people’s response to what I have to say had been incredible. And, it became easier as time went by.

I love visiting new places and sharing ideas, especially with people who enjoy learning and discussing their own views about social media, blogging, and all these other things that I care about so much.

To me, the best part about speaking and attending conferences and other events is the ability to meet the many wonderful people that I’ve met, which I never would’ve come across otherwise. Even though I love the web, being able to make real life connections is just wonderful.

8. I remember when your son started his blog; is he still blogging, and has your daughter picked up the bug yet?

Wow. Great memory! Yes, my son who just turned 8, still blogs occasionally. He has had his own blog for almost two years and even started setting up other blogs by himself. I think he still would like to keep blogging, but he has new obsessions at the moment, so we’ll see how he goes.

And no, my daughter is only 4 (about to turn 5), so she’s a bit away off from blogging still, I think. Although she has already started learning how to read, write, and make her own video movie clips using an iPod Touch, I think she probably wouldn’t ask for a blog for another year or two at least. Maybe.

9. This might not be a fair question but hey, let’s ask it anyway. Do you think the fact that you’re attractive helps people feel a connection to you as a blogger?

Haha. I have no idea, to be honest. Maybe that’s a question best answered by my readers and subscribers?

Actually, I never really considered looks as the best way to “hook” people. I know that may sound really lame, especially since I’ve been looking like a real narcissistic flake, ever since I discovered the concept behind self portraiture and the 365 days project back in 2008. But, I have to say that I never went around thinking I was pretty all my life, believe me. I even recall thinking, as I was growing up, that even though I wasn’t particularly attractive, at least I looked “okay”. So yeah, when compliments started coming in, I was really taken aback. Had I known I was considered attractive, I may have had a completely different view in life! Maybe I would’ve tried to do something more glamorous than blogging. Or not. Heh.

10. What’s left for you to accomplish, both in and outside of blogging?

I’m an INFJ – so apparently, it’s my curse to want something more, something better, always. 🙂

Plus, I have a long Dream List and an even longer To Do List, both of which will probably outlive me, as I don’t think I can ever check off all the boxes in my lifetime.

Right now, I’m going just trying to make the most of the blessings I’ve been given both personally and professionally. I’m doing some work on my “what’s next” plan, which hopefully includes finishing my 2nd post-grad degree, taking more time to write and blog, and indulging some of my other passions and dreams.
 

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Two Biggest Issues With Social Media Marketing

Since I wrote a post on the topic of social media and ROI, I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems associated with social media marketing in general. Some might have thought that I covered it with my post this past Saturday talking about the dangers of social media, but I didn’t. Matter of fact, that was geared more towards individuals; now it’s time to talk about the problems businesses have.


by Phillie Casablanca via Flickr

I believe there are two major problems with social media marketing; those are:

1) getting the message wrong

2) being ignored

For any other issue that one might come up with, these are the two biggest problems to date. I never touched upon the second one when I did the outline for my social media marketing seminar back in 2010, and barely touched upon the first one. That’s because I’m usually concentrating on educating people as to what social media is in the first place, not getting much into the details of it. I like to think I know something about social media marketing, but every once in awhile I have an epiphany and realize that I’ve just scratched the surface.

Getting The Message Wrong

Let’s get into it. We’ll start with the first premise, that being getting the message wrong. Man, is it easy to mess up. Just ask McDonald’s, which tried to have a Twitter media campaign asking people to use a certain hashtag telling the world why they love McDonald’s. The problem is that not everyone likes McDonald’s, or wants to own up to it, and thus there were a lot of negative responses that hijacked the hashtag and brought a modicum of embarrassment. A representative said the negative comments only amounted to 2% of comments overall but no one believes that. And even if it’s true, then McDonald’s still lost because the media has already spread the word; bad publicity isn’t always better than no publicity at all.


from Huffington Post

The problem sometimes comes from thinking you know your market when you don’t. I don’t hate McDonald’s, but I hear a lot of people putting down their food, although many of those same people will scarf down a box of fries if they got one; those things are tasty. Setting it up as a Twitter campaign to promote your company when you know there’s a lot of negative press about you from time to time (who hasn’t read this story nor seen the picture next to this paragraph about their chicken?) probably isn’t one of the smartest moves in the world. And they paid someone to create this campaign for them; they should have known better.

Late last year there was a campaign from the makers of Ragu (my favorite spaghetti sauce by the way) that seemed to make fun of the cooking skills of fathers and faced a major backlash about it. Truthfully, I thought it was a lot of fuss about nothing, but it was a fuss and the company ended up having to apologize to fathers for it.

This kind of thing happens all the time, and it doesn’t have to be this big. There was a woman whose book got a bad review on Amazon and she went after the person who wrote that review, only angering a constituency that hadn’t reviewed her book online because they’d thought it was horribly written and edited and just didn’t want to make a fuss, and once they mobilized and wrote all the negative reviews you can imagine the woman pretty much disappeared, with her book eventually averaging just barely over 1 star. Yes, social media can be deadly indeed.

Being Ignored

If getting the message wrong is a major problem, a problem just as bad is being ignored. Some time ago I wrote a post saying that social media marketing is just marketing. As true as that is, I didn’t expand it further at the time, mainly because I hadn’t thought about it.

When you watch your favorite programs on TV, what do you notice during the commercials? You notice that you see the same commercial over and over. During most sporting events on TV, you’ll often see the same commercial at every break. This year the big commercials seem to be from Papa John’s, who’s sponsoring the Super Bowl. The point isn’t that they’re paying millions to do that; the point is that they’re making sure their message gets across by popping it up there every 3 or 4 minutes on multiple channels to make sure we all get the message.

Let’s think about our social media marketing processes. I wrote about our reluctance to market ourselves, and it probably needs to be modified to say our reluctance to over-market ourselves. Indeed, if you read the comments on that post, you’ll see people admitting that they hate marketing themselves, instead spending a lot of time promoting others with the expectation that doing it helps to promote themselves. It does, but if one really wanted to earn a significant income, just how much marketing and self promotion via social media would we have to do?

The short answer; a lot. During my recent short period of pitching my request for a Shorty Award nomination I started retweeting that request every couple of hours. I did that for maybe 4 days before I started feeling self conscious about it; I even had it up here as a sticky post for that time period before putting it back into regular circulation.

That campaign only got me 26 overall votes, and what’s funny about it is how people said they never saw it; are you kidding me? I put it on Twitter, I put it on Facebook, I wrote about it on two other blogs. Yet that’s all I got; with a lot of people saying they never saw it, and I bet there are people right now who will say they never saw it.

The same thing happened when I was marketing my 2010 live presentation locally. I thought I was putting my message out there often, over many weeks, yet not only was the turnout not what I expected it to be, but when I mentioned it to people less than a month after it ended they said “I didn’t know you were doing that”. How often can one legitimately put their message out there?

One of the biggest complaints many of us have about some of the people we see marketing through social media is that they’re always promoting themselves over and over, to the extent that we’re sick of them and we stop following them. I’m one of those people, yet I’m starting to realize that if I ever really want to make money via social media marketing, or get better known so that I will get more consulting gigs or requests to speak at paid gigs that putting out the occasional marketing post probably isn’t going to get it done. And that doesn’t bode well for someone, whether it’s me or someone following me. People will do what people need to do to make money, and whether you or I like it or not if those people make money by those means, who are we to say they don’t have the right to make a living?

Those of us hoping for positive things out of our social media presence and social media marketing have to decide what it is we really want to do to reach our goals. I haven’t decided yet, but I’m still leaning towards not being too much of a pest. But maybe I can be slightly pesty, if that’s a word; I’m not sure. An interesting question is whether I’d do it for a client that asked for it. I’d have to answer that with an affirmative, which means we’re back to an old Redd Foxx joke, where the punch line is “we’re just arguing over the price”. One of these days, if prodded enough, I might tell the rest of that joke. 🙂

Meanwhile, think about it; what would it take for you to decide to put yourself out there more in social media, and just what would that mean?
 

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The Power And Danger Of Social Media

As the world is getting more connected and more people are getting into social media, one is seeing just how powerful a medium it can be. Last year alone social media was credited with bringing down the governments of a few countries, forcing bank reform, raising millions of dollars for charity, saving lots of lives, finding children and killers, and a host of other things. It’s amazing what can happen when people get mentally engaged in something, even if it’s not in their area or might not personally affect them, and decide to do something.


via Flickr

But there’s also a major danger in social media. Obviously the biggest issues are that free speech isn’t free and privacy is a myth. Let’s talk about each of these for a few minutes.

We saw some interesting things happen in just the last week. The president of UFC, Ultimate Fighting Champions, decided not only to go live in giving his approval for a stance against SOPA (that wasn’t going to be popular), saying that content from his company is regularly stolen and costs him and his performers a lot of money, but then he decided to personally take on Anonymous (y’all have to have heard of these people), a group that’s shut down federal government websites, Twitter, LinkedIn, Sony… well, let’s just say that they’ve flexed their muscle in ways that prove that, for now, they’re probably the most dangerous online group of people in the world.

There are times when “being a man”, which means you believe you can engage someone in a fair fight to teach them a lesson, needs to be modified when you have no idea what you’re talking about. This guy, Dana White, called these folks all kinds of names, then dared them to come after him. I believe he thought someone would show up at his office one day and challenge him to a fight; nope, that wasn’t happening. Instead, Anonymous shut down his site. But that wasn’t all. They then posted all his personal information online, including his social security number, his private phone numbers (not so private anymore), and other private information. The next day Mr. White held a press conference to talk about upcoming fights; he never mentioned his verbal battle and when questioned ignored it. Yeah, learned that lesson just a little bit late.

From my perspective we should both be happy and scared of what social media has become.

We should be elated because, by participating, we never know when one day we might be “discovered” for our words or our videos or our pictures and become a big deal. We never know if our cause will touch someone or many someones or the right someone and get them to take action on our behalf.

We should be scared for exactly the same reason. People can turn against us for the very same things mentioned above if we’re stupid or make a mistake and the “wrong” people see it and decide to use it against us. Or the right people, especially when people are being stupid on topics concerning things such as race. If you don’t think you’ll get called out for taking a stance, serious or not, against a group of people, without justification, you’re not thinking straight.

Of course, I can’t go without mentioning the new Google privacy policy, if one can call it that, which goes into effect March 1st. I’ve often said that sites have the right to do whatever they want to do and that we all have the right to participate or not. That’s Google’s stance; they get to merge all the information they have on you and if you don’t like it, leave. Facebook will probably be doing the same thing soon as well. This comes about because of government complaints that their privacy policy was too confusing; nothing confusing about the new policy, that’s for sure. The new Search Plus Your World process on Google was an indication that privacy is all over, and it’s Google’s belief that it’s for our “benefit”. No matter what you think about this, you can’t dismiss the reality that privacy is dead, and there really isn’t any getting out of it, no matter what Google or Facebook may try to make you believe. Here’s Google’s video about it:

Social media can be one of your best friends. I’ve met many people I’d have never had the opportunity to talk to because of social media. It allows me to blog and get my opinions off my mind and into the open. It allows me to experience things that I’ll never experience in person, both good and bad. I’m one of those people that would be lost without social media; thanks for being around.

Social media can be your worst enemy as well. You can be bullied and made fun of. Your “private” information can get out there; heck, it’s already out there for the right price. You can be made fun of, you can be outed, you can be castigated, you can be introduced to things you probably didn’t want to know (who remembers the 2 Girls & a Cup thing a couple of years ago; ugh), and you can be scared to ever get on a computer again.

Here’s the thing; social media, in the long run, it just like everything else. There are always two sides to something, and depending on who you are, they’ll have the ability to affect you differently. Kind of like peanuts; some people can eat them without worry, others have allergies that can kill them. Which side of the peanut fence are you on? By the way, how many times have you ever seen the phrase “peanut fence”? 😉
 

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Black Web Friday – 1/27/12

Last week was the first installment of Black Web Friday on this blog and this is the second one. I’m slightly surprised that it actually made the top 10 most visited posts in the last week, but somewhat disappointed that the numbers weren’t higher at the same time. But that’s okay because it’s going to grow, and even if it doesn’t I’m committed to it for the long haul, or at least the next six months or so.

Black Web Friday

Before I begin, I did want to talk about criteria for a moment, as in do I have any? It’s an intriguing question because as I go along this journey, if you have any way of tracking rankings you’ll notice that some of the people I highlight have lousy rankings. To me that’s not enough to disqualify anyone from being highlighted.

What will disqualify someone is if there’s been no new content in at least 2 months. Now, that’s 2 months from the day I’m researching sites to highlight here, which means right now any site that hasn’t had anything new since the beginning of December. As I add more sites to my list, the date may float, but since I figure that if I make it 6 months I’ll end up highlighting anywhere from 50 to 75 sites overall, my list might be complete before I get there. Now, if I go to the end of the year then it could change up; we’ll see.

The first site I’m highlighting today is called ColorLines is another black news and commentary site that, as it says, focuses on “solutions to today’s racial justice issues”. It’s very much a site that covers hot topic issues, which right now seem to be politics and Etta James; still? 🙂 Actually, even though it’s geared towards a black audience, they also take on issues of other minority groups, as I was impressed with their article titled Charlotte’s First Baby of 2012 Sparks Anti-Latino Hate, where a Latino baby was the first baby of the year born in the Charlotte, NC area and people griped because they believed the press was highlighting a baby born by an illegal alien; people need to get a clue.

The next site I’m highlighting is called iZania, and it’s a black business networking site, not quite along the lines of LinkedIn but it’s intentions are the same. The site is the brainchild of a guy I met on Ryze many years ago named Roger Madison, and even though I don’t go often, I think I was one of the earliest people to sign up in… well, I’m not actually sure when I signed up. I even added this article titled Mixed Messages there. The site has over 8,800 members, and there’s the possibility of making business connections there, but I’m not sure most of us have really taken as much advantage of it as we should.

The final site of the day is easy. This is highlighting my buddy Mitchell Allen of Morpho Designs who’s also looking for beta testers for his software called Parsermonster (he likes the word “monster” for some reason). He’s the guy who actually convinced me to start this series after a bunch of conversations on the topic while playing email chess (in a game that I believe ended in a draw lol). For the Shorty Awards, where I asked people to nominate me in the category of “blogger”, I nominated him in the category of “writing” because he’s just so creative it’s scary. And I literally mean that because in his own way he’ll remind you of a Stephen King type of writer at times, and other times it’s fantasy stuff. And he’s smart; take a look at some of his older posts about Scrabble words, a series he just recently discontinued. Once again, proof that a black blogger doesn’t necessarily have to write on black topics. He definitely deserves to be noticed and on some lists; he’s built up a long time pedigree on multiple sites that shouldn’t continue being overlooked. We’re going to get rich at the same time. 🙂

There we have it, 3 more sites for you to check out, though I’m expecting many of you already know Mitch. Until next time America (Maury Povich’s famous former last words).
 

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My “Watch-Less” Experiment

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while know that I like to experiment here and there. One of the reasons I experiment is because I have preconceived notions about things, including myself, that every once in a while I need to challenge. Another reason is that I know I’m not the only one who has the certain habits, or something like them, so taking them on and then talking about them might help someone else address issues they have.


Yes, this watch is for sale 🙂

As you can tell by the title, I decided to go without my watch for a while. Of course there is the history behind this, and a brief little story as well.

I learned how to tell time when I was three years old. I got my first watch on my fourth birthday while living in Japan, and it was unlike any watch anyone else had. Mine had a spaceship on it, which was really cool because the space age was very new at the time. Eventually I went from that watch to a couple of Timex watches, then a military watch that glowed in the dark if it got enough light during the day, and finally my first digital watch a year after I started college. Around 1982 I got my first programmable watch, which not only allowed me to set alarms, but allowed me to put phone numbers in it.

This is the same kind of watch I have now, and I’ve always loved my watches. I’ve always been kind of a stickler for time as well. Having a watch that I can program with all kind of alarms seems to work out well for someone like me.

Over the last couple of months however, I started thinking that maybe to watch wasn’t helping me do what I wanted to do. Oh sure, I could still time things, but I found myself resistant to trying to stay on schedule because of the watch. I would always look at it, it didn’t inspire me to want to do anything. I had taken to really only using it when I needed to time something; that’s not so cool.

I decided it was time for experiment. I wondered what would happen if I stopped wearing my watch after so many decades. Would I miss the weight? Would I start being late for things? Would I go crazy because I couldn’t look at my watch all that often anymore? Or would nothing happened at all?

I’m not going to make you wait for it this time around; nothing happened. I found that it was quite an easy transition going from wearing a watch all the time to not wearing one at all. One of the reasons is that I have so many replacements for a watch. My smart phone obviously has a clock function. Because I’m at my computer all the time it also has a time function. I don’t have a clock in my computer room, but I have a digital cable box that always has the time showing. When I’m in my car there’s a clock. Even at the gym there are two clocks, one at each end of the track.

Also, I knew that I could set alarms on both my smartphone and my Palm, and the smart phone also has a timer. In other words, overall I’ve found that I had so many other ways of checking my time that I didn’t miss my watch at all.

Of course there is a downfall. I find that I’ve been staying up later than normal, not thinking about going to bed until 3:30 in the morning, and a couple of times not until 5AM. No, that’s not a good thing, and I find that just because I go to bed later doesn’t mean I sleep any later, so I’m not sleeping as much as I was before. Still, as long as I’m working for myself that’s a small thing because I can always get a nap if I need one.

I know you’re thinking “why did he tell us all this”? All of us have preconceived notions about ourselves, as well as other people. When I wrote my post about modeling the other day, a couple of people said that there was no way they could see themselves ever being able to do the same thing. When I wrote my post some years ago talking about having to start injecting myself with insulin, a few people wrote that they could never see themselves being able to do that either.

People are always saying they can’t do this and they can’t do that, and even though every once in while their reasoning is sound, most of the time it’s people reacting with fear to something that they really don’t know whether they could do it or not. And most people, myself included, are afraid to tackle certain things that they feel are beyond their comfort zone.

I have used watches as a crutch for almost 50 years, and in my wildest dreams I never thought that I would be comfortable without having a watch on. Not that I will wear my watch again, but it’s nice to know how easy it was to break the bonds I had placed on my own mind, since that’s where most of our bonds lie. It makes me wonder what else there is that might be holding me back in some fashion that I can break to push forward.

Think about this; what types of things and how many things are in your mind that holding you back? Maybe make a list of 10 things that follows these two words: I can’t. Then pick one and resolve to at least test it; you might be surprised at what you’re capable of.
 

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