How NOT to do media relations: Fake-friendly pitches

Just because someone posts something personal online doesn’t mean it’s OK to use that to manufacture a faux-personal connection in order to persuade them to do you a favor.

Case in point: Yesterday a clueless media relations professional whom I do not know sent me an e-mail with the subject line: “I sent a poem to a wannabee crotchety old bitch.” He was alluding to my recent birthday post, in which I reflected on aging.

The comment this person attempted to append to that post — which I did not approve — was the poem When I am an old woman I shall wear purple. That was in itself a mistake, though not a fatal one. If ever there was an overused, reflexive cliche response to any woman who mentions aging in a positive light, that poem would be it.

So this PR guy e-mailed me to let me know he’d tried to post that comment. Here’s the start of his message, and where he really screwed up…

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Making links work for news: Mobile

As part of my research on mobile strategies for news, I subscribe to text alerts from several news organizations around the country. I do this from a cheap little Samsung Freeform candybar-style feature phone, so I can get a feel for what this experience is like for the vast majority of mobile users.

In general, this has been a pretty mixed experience…

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Facebook fan page hack: How to publish multiple feeds to your fan page wall

I recently created a Facebook fan page for the RJI Collaboratory — a community of journalists, developers, and others who are building the future of local and niche news, supported by the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Yes, the Collaboratory has a Ning community site. However, it’s always easier to engage people when you go where they are, rather than demanding they come to your site just to talk and share. Hence the fan page — so we can bring the activity of the Collaboratory to our members who spend more time on Facebook than on the Collaboratory site.

I still hate Facebook, but since it’s so damn popular I have no choice but to use it, especially to connect with various communities. One of the many things that annoy me about Facebook is how difficult they make it to import content from several different feeds onto a fan page’s comment wall.

I’m by no means a Facebook expert, but I just hacked a solution to that particular problem, and thought I’d share it…

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Integrate your brochure site into your blog (updated advice)

Recently I offered some advice for how small businesses and independent professionals who aren’t very tech-savvy could expand their existing simple brochure sites into sites that will actively help build their business.

…Because the way the internet works today, a static brochure site is like a car up on blocks: You can sit in it, you can show it to people — but it ain’t going far.

After discussing some issues in the comments to that post with my friend maiki interi (a talented and thoughtful Web developer), I’ve decided to correct an important piece of advice.

Originally I advised: “You can create a blog using a free service like WordPress.com and integrate that into any site.” Maiki correctly observed:

“Seems to me to be [that may be] massaging the truth, on a technical level. Of course it depends on what you mean by integration.”

I was thinking over what it would really take to integrate a blog into a static site. It can be done, but yeah, it’s a lot of hoops to jump through. Plus, there are many ways this integration could be done badly. Also, it’s not reasonable to expect a non-technical business person to know what to request from a web developer on this front.

So here’s what I’m going to recommend instead: Integrate your brochure site into a blog, not the other way around.

This does NOT means starting over from scratch. You can still use most or all of what your web designer originally built for you. However, you’ll be strapping it to an engine that will play nice with the internet and actually get your business moving.

This also does not mean your site has to look like a conventional blog. It can still mainly look like a brochure, if that’s what you want.

So here’s what the nontechnical people can do to reconfigure their brochure sites…

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Expanding a business brochure site into something that will really help your business

To illustrate advertising and informational pa...
These days, brochures aren’t enough to make your business findable. (Image via Wikipedia)

If you’re a semi-retired professional who wants to build a consulting business, and you’re not an internet whiz, what kind of web site will really help clients find you? And how can you easily build and maintain a useful professional network?

My dad, Jack Gahran, is a semi-retired management consultant who knows many other semi-retired professionals. Today he asked me to look over the brand-new web site of a colleague of his, to offer some advice as to how it might be improved in ways that will build this person’s business.

The site is a pretty standard brochure site — a few static pages of basic information. It had a nice but simple design, and the content seemed to use keywords appropriately — both of which help search engines like Google index the site well. However, Google generally isn’t very interested in small brochure sites that are infrequently updated and don’t attract many inbound links.

I offered my dad’s colleague four basic tips for improving his site in ways that will make it much more visible in search engines, and thus more likely to attract inbound links from other sites (another thing Google rewards).

I get asked for this kind of advice a lot, so I figured I’d make a blog post out of it, so everyone can benefit.

Here’s what I told him…
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Thinking of updating your mac to Snow Leopard? Do this FIRST!

While I’m here on my 3rd Apple Store visit in as many days to try to recover from a disaster triggered by my attempt to upgrade my Mac to the Snow Leopard OS X, here are some tips that might save other Mac users similar pain and frustration.

1. Back up your entire machine onto TWO EXTERNAL DRIVES. It’s a good idea to run Time Machine backup as often as possible. But when you’re running the risk of having to hand over your mac AND your backup drive to a technician (which is always the case when attempting a significant operating system update), it’s a good idea to have a separate copy of your backup in your own possession.

2. Verify the condition of your hard drive. Apple is marketing Snow Leopard chiefly as a way to enhance performance. However, if your hard drive is developing problems (as mine apparently was), that will impair performance. Installing Snow Leopard won’t fix HD problems, and it may even cause your drive to fail during installation (as mine did)

So Verify your disk using your Mac’s Disk Utility before you upgrade. That can indicate HD problems. It’s not a perfect predictor of problems, but it’s at least some help. Had I thought to do this, I might not have lost 3 workdays and be freezing my ass off in an over-air conditioned Apple Store right now.

If your disk verification process indicates problems, and if you’re experiencing decreasing performance, it’s probably a safer bet to get your HD replaced and data restored correctly BEFORE attempting to upgrade your operating system. If you have to go to the Apple Store to do this, make sure they put in the work order that you do NOT want the OS upgraded yet.

3. Check your warranty coverage. I purchased Apple Care when I bought my mac a couple of years ago, and it’s still in effect. So Apple replaced my HD for free. I’m not sure whether the warranty covers drives that are having problems (rather than have already failed), but it’s worth asking about.

4. Line up a backup computer. If, like me, you work or life could get seriously screwed if you lose your computer for a few days or more, make sure you have handy access to a functional backup machine BEFORE doing a significant system update. Load it up with all the software & data you’ll need to do what you need to do, and test it.

Personally, I’m getting a Linux netbook ASAP.

5. Check your ProCare staus. ProCare is Apple’s preferred service program. It costs about $100/yr, and it’s worth it if you depend in your Mac. If you need a speedy repair, make sure you have current ProCare coverage. You van buy it on the spot at the Apple Store if you need it.

6. Don’t leave the Apple Store without your computer the way you need it. If your OS X update goes dreadfully wrong (as mine did), required them to wipe your drive, have the Apple Store staff restore your operating system and data from your Time Machine backup. Don’t do all of that yourself.

My experience shows that this installation/restore process is trickier than Apple claims. It’s surprisingly easy for the Time Machine restoration to not work right with a freshly installed OS. Make them do everything you need do your machine is up and running. Bring this blog post with you if they balk, and stick to your guns.

This means bringing your external HD with your current Time Machine backup to the Apple Store with you, of course. And before you leave, sync your iPhone and make sure it works. My iPhone sync is not yet working, so I’m staying put in this store for now.

7. Check the “Lemon Law” in your state. The details if this federal consumer protection law are defined by each state. In many states, including CA, lemon laws cover not just vehicles but also consumer products. This may give you recourse if you get screwed by Apple on mac-related issues, like a disastrous OS update you paid for.

Also have the phone number of the local Better Business Bureau handy, and be willing to file a complaint if necessary.

8. Don’t attempt a major system update a couple of weeks after having knee surgery. I’m just saying, it makes everything that much more difficult, aggravating, and risky.

Avoiding Online News Biz Pitfalls with Better Skills and Tools

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently went online-only.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently went online-only.

Recently in Online Journalism Review, Dave Chase (owner and publisher of Sun Valley Online) offered a considerable amount of specific advice on running the revenue (advertising) side of an online-only news operation — with an eye toward what might help the Seattle Post-Intelligencer succeed in this field.

Even if your feet are firmly planted on the editorial side of the traditional newsroom/advertising firewall, this is context that everyone in the news business should know. Updated journalistic skills and newsroom tools (especially your content management system) might better support online ad sales…

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Typepad: Often the best choice for serious but non-geeky bloggers

TypePad
If you want to start a serious blog and you’re not a geek, you’d probably want to use Typepad rather than WordPress. (Image via Wikipedia)

Right now, a lot of my colleagues (especially journalists) want to start building an independent online brand for the first time. Thus, they want to launch their first serious blog or site.

My universal advice in this case is: Don’t start from scratch (i.e., build a static site in Dreamweaver, FrontPage, or GoDaddy’s Website Tonight or SmartSpace). Instead, build your project with a popular professional-level blogging platform, even if you don’t want to blog at first.

Good blogging tools allow you to create static pages (which can comprise your whole site, if you like) and implement nearly any design strategy — while also playing nice with search engines, making your content easily linkable, and leaving your options open for more interactive approaches without having to totally rebuild the site.

Also, get a good domain for your site and use it. Over time, this provides far more search visibility and brand recognition (which benefit your career) — as well as options for easily switching platforms without losing those benefits — than a site bearing, say, a blogspot.com or WordPress.com domain.

Another reason to avoid free blogging platforms like Blogger for serious sites is that these tools are very limited. Once you get into blogging, you’ll quickly outgrow these tools — and moving a site is always a hassle.

After this, my colleagues typically want to know which tools to use to build their blog or site.

Personally, I’m a big fan of WordPress, the free open-source content management system. (It only started as a blogging tool; it’s grown.) I’ve used it for Contentious.com for many years. It’s flexible and offers just about any design theme or plug-in option I could possibly want — which encourages me to learn and experiment.

But let’s face it: I’m rather geeky. I actually enjoy spending time playing with new online tools and seeing what I can make them do. That’s not true of everyone — especially many journalists.

So to someone who’s not inherently techno-geeky and who wants start a serious blog or site for the first time (and who may want to start multiple blogs or sites), I actually recommend a different tool: Typepad, the inexpensive hosted blogging service from SixApart.

Here’s why… Continue reading