2009 October

Where Does Content Come From?

I am a horrible client.  I am one of those people who finds myself prefacing many conversations with ‘do as I say, not as I do.’  Recently, when discussing the content needs for a client’s website, we were addressing the elephant in the room — the logical reason for a blog for their business, the potential for real contribution to an industry dialogue, and their feeling of overwhelm when confronted by the responsibility of creating that much content.  They aren’t alone.  I hear this every day, from clients in every industry who want to take advantage of the fluidity of the web, and the new channels for communicating a message. But the idea of committing to regular blog entries, or having to think of interesting ideas that often, just leaves them stymied.  And believe me, I get it.  I get overwhelmed with the responsibility of my work, my life and then, on top of all of that, this blog.  Life is overwhelming.  Being interesting is just not easy.  So I thought I’d share with you what I share with clients — just a few inspirational pointers to help get you started down the path to creating compelling (relatively speaking) content.

This thing that is happening on the web right now with Social Media has everybody talking because there is a lot to talk about.  All of the connections and conversations and industries and ideas are exciting to watch and to learn from and to participate in. You can start by listening in on your industry or those conversations that touch on topics around which you feel passionately and find room for your own voice.  I try to encourage clients to participate in the dialogue because, quite simply — that is content.  Respond to conversations that are already happening.  Bring them back to your blog and take a position.  Whatever it is – whether you agree or disagree–your contribution adds richness to the discussion.  I think people often believe they need to comment on a blog post or article and that must be the end of their interaction with the material.  Really, there’s nothing wrong with taking it home and expanding on your comment, your opinion, your reaction to the piece and encouraging others to do the same.  Participating in conversations that are already happening will also expand your network, or potentially establish your voice as that of an industry expert.

I have one client who is, for all intents and purposes, a teacher or business coach.  This particular person interacts with large audiences of people in classroom settings every single day.  And she’s exceedingly passionate about the work that she does because, in her mind, and based on quantified data, she’s changing these businesses for the better.  But the very thought of blogging adds yet another thing to her mile-long list and that is one thing too many.  Here’s the deal – oftentimes you ARE your content.  You’re creating content every day in your engagement with your clients and customers.  Find ways to capture and share easily digested pieces of that on your blog.  In her case a Flip Camera is an easy, affordable way to not only capture clips of the work she’s doing, but also to tap into her audience for their reactions and response to what they learned.  One session with a live audience could potentially fuel many blog posts with rich and engaging content. Taking some video every time means she’ll build a really resource-rich library that could prove a real asset to her blog and her company.

There are even simpler ways to address the content dilemma.  Talk to the people around you, the people you work with, perhaps,  and brainstorm topics that you think need to be tackled.  Talk to your audience — what are their expectations?  Ask them for feedback, questions, contributions.  Invite other industry leaders to guest post on your blog.  Distribute responsibility for content topics across your organization.  Don’t try to manage the overwhelm alone.  Talking to people plants the seeds of content.  That is the first step. 

Let me be clear — this post is not at all a guide around content strategy.  There are additional considerations that I’ve not touched here.  But I am suggesting that you needn’t be overwhelmed to the point of silence by your need for content.  It just requires a shift in thinking about what constitutes good content and where we get our inspiration.  At the end of the day, if you love what you do and you are willing to talk about it and share your passion and just plain participate — you’ve got yourself some content.

What the Hashtag?

One of the hardest things to explain to people who are unfamiliar with Twitter is hashtags. Many things about Twitter are not immediately self-evident, and hashtags are one of them.

What Are Hashtags?

The simplest way to explain hashtags is that they are a way to categorize a particular tweet.

The name hashtag combines the notion of tagging (using a word or phrase to categorize something) with the hash symbol (#). (I don’t know about you, but I always call that symbol a pound sign. I’m thinkng of starting a campaign to rename hashtags to poundtags. Anybody with me?)

If you are reading a tweet with a hashtag, the hashtag will be a link. Clicking that link will take you to the search page for that hashtag.

Who creates them?

Anyone can create a hashtag. It’s anarchy! The company I work for uses the hashtag #clockwork whenever we tweet about work, but other people in the world also sometimes use that hashtag to tweet about a Jiu Jitsu studio in NYC, or the movie A Clockwork Orange. So, even if you start using a hashtag someone else may start using it, too. (Or, they may already be using it. The only way to find out is to search for the hashtag and see if it’s already in use.)

How do you find them?

Sometimes, events that you attend will print the hashtag in the brochure. Sometimes, someone will create a hashtag that gets so popular it becomes a “trending topic” on Twitter. Sometimes, you might just see a hashtag in a friend’s tweets.

What does each hashtag mean?

One of my co-workers just sent me this amazingly cool site, http://wthashtag.com, which crowdsources what hashtags mean. This is fantastic because, since anyone can create a hashtag, a central directory of what each hashtag means has never existed. And because anyone can create one at any time, this approach of asking the public what they each mean is the only way it can be realistically managed.

If you see a hashtag and wonder what it’s for, this site can help you find out. If you start a new hashtag, you can add more information about it here for other people to discover.

How can you use them?

This is where it gets really interesting. Hashtags can be used in a bunch of interesting ways:

Industry Chats: People in the same industry, who are interested in a group conversation, sometimes start up a hashtag and have people meet at a certain date and time to talk about something. Kind of a like a big chatroom, but using Twitter instead of instant messenger. Some examples include #journchat (a PR discussion group on Monday nights), #blogchat (a blogging discussion group on Sunday nights) and #behindthefirewall (a group that discusses how social media is being used inside of corporations).

Events: I’ll use the recent MIMA Summit as an example: everyone who was tweeting about that event used the hashtag #mimasummit. If I want to see tweets that are only related to the MIMA Summit, I can use search.twitter.com and follow all tweets that contain that hashtag.

What’s interesting about hashtags for events is that they can be used both for those at the event, and for those that couldn’t attend. For those at the event, hashtagged tweets can be a way to keep up with breaking news at the event (“Session 1 is canceled” or “We know wi-fi is slow, we’re working on it now.”). For those not attending, it can be a way to listen in on what’s happening and participate from afar. At some events, you can submit questions to the speaker via Twitter and a person acting as a “Twitterhost” will pass the questions along.

Sometimes, as is the case with #mimasummit, people use the hashtags for days and weeks after the event is over to share follow-up articles, blog posts, and videos.

Companies/Organizations: I also mentioned the #clockwork hashtag earlier. Using Twitter’s API (application-programming interface) we created a custom search that appears on our homepage (the custom search allows us to filter out those other, non-related tweets that also happen to use our hashtag).

Fans and practitioners of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology use #gtd for any of their tweets that relate to that topic.

To Make a Statement: The other day, I got irritated with a conversation that was happening where working and at-home moms were being pitted against each other. I decided to start an #endmommywars hashtag, for no reason other than to give people a spot to voice their support for each other. This happens all the time with causes big and small.

For Fun/Entertainment: On Friday, someone started a hashtag meme #oneletteroffmovies. People were tweeting funny movie titles that were just one letter off. Like my contribution, My Big Fat Geek Wedding. Totally pointless, but entertaining. My husband and I were reading the submissions together on Friday night, laughing and trying to think of our own.

There are also hashtags for #MusicMonday (to share music suggestions), #FollowFriday and #Women2Follow (where you can suggest that other people follow someone whom you find interesting).

To Be Clever: The final way that people use hashtags is to add a funny, sarcastic sidebar comment to their tweet. As in, “I just changed my 1,000th diaper. #mylifeisglamorous”.

Spammers: It just wouldn’t be the Internet if spammers didn’t figure out how to ruin everyone’s good time. Depending on the popularity of the topic you’re following, you’ll often see unrelated tweets that contain the hashtag (and often a few others). That’s just spammers trying to get attention from unsuspecting Twitterers by dropping trending topics and hashtags into their spam tweets. Sad, but true.

So now you know. As you are tweeting, hashtags allow you to categorize those tweets. As a person who is reading tweets, hashtags provide a way to filter the overwhelming universe of tweets into a more manageable set of only those you are interested in at that moment. Looking through tweets related to a given hashtag can also be a great way to find interesting new people to follow on Twitter.

Feel like getting your feet wet with hashtags? Add #geekgirlsguide to your tweet, and we’ll see it. (Or just try #myfirsthashtag — it won’t hurt anyone!)

Hashtags?! I Still Can’t Figure Out What Twitter Is For!

If you need more Twitter 101, check out these other articles we’ve written:


While issues around being a working mom aren’t what Geek Girls Guide was created for, they are related. And today I read a something that I cannot let go unanswered.

A prominent mommy blogger (who I’ll refer to as MB) appeared on a national talk show on 10/14. I refuse to say who she is, or what the show is, because I don’t want to give them any more attention. Mainly because I think both parties are guilty of sensationalizing the working vs. stay-at-home moms issue for their own personal gain.

Here’s the gist of MB’s argument (as quoted in Huffington Post on October 14th), “I wouldn’t outsource loving my husband, why would I outsource loving my kids?”

I have big, stankin’ problems with this statement, and with the way in which it was presented. Let’s begin the rant, shall we?

The Argument

  • MB’s statement reduces the role of women (whether they work, or stay at home) to nurturing their children and servicing their husband. While I embrace both roles, I’d like to think that women have more to contribute to the world than that.
  • The argument makes no mention of the role of fathers in nurturing, raising and loving children. She claims that she stated that fathers can stay home with kids, but that was edited out. Even so, why do moms who choose to work suffer her ire? Why is that any worse than fathers who “choose” to work?
  • She points out that her arguments are directed at moms who choose to work, not at those who have to. I fail to see how or why that disclaimer makes her argument okay. So, it’s okay if you work, as long as you don’t like it. What?!

My two cents is this: in general, people who find it necessary to criticize the decisions made by other people are doing it because they are insecure. In the case of moms, perhaps because they’re worried they made the wrong choice, whether that choice was working or staying home. Either way, it’s wrong: what’s right for my family may not be right for yours. Additionally, it’s foolish to assume that not working makes you a good mom, or that working makes you a bad one. This is akin to arguments I’ve seen assuming that breastfeeding makes you a good mom and using formula makes you a bad mom. Nonsense! Mind your own business, I say. (And, by the way, I nursed my daughter ’til she was 22 months and am still nursing my 13-month-old son. So, I’m a “bad mom” for working but a “good mom” for nursing. I guess I break even?)

My Story

I chose to have two children, and I chose to keep working. I’m comfortable with that choice, and I feel no need to disparage anyone who chose differently.

While getting ready to go back to work after having my first child, a dear friend told me, “In the first week or two, you’ll know. Your gut will either tell you that you need to stay home, or that it’s okay to stay at work.” She was right. The truth is, my gut told me that I love working. After having my second child, I helped institute a Babies @ Work program at my office, which I took advantage of until my son was 6 months old. He now spends days with his sister at a small home-based daycare near our home. Thanks to a husband who shares the parenting load, I feel great about going to work. I am lucky to work for a for a forward-thinking company that supports working parents, to have found a daycare provider that I trust, and to have a partner that shares in the parenting duties. Because of all that I can say, with confidence, that I am a good mom.

Here’s a link to a longer blog post I wrote about being a working mom in 2008.

Let’s Do Something

Working moms, at-home moms, working dads, at-home dads, employers and anyone else who cares: let’s have a positive show of force against this kind of small-minded, sexist thinking and not reward those who choose to perpetuate it with undue attention.

It’s so unproductive to reduce this argument to mom vs. mom, and I want to respond to this with something positive. I want this judgment between working and at-home moms to cease.

If you agree, take action:

  • If you use Twitter, tweet about it this the hashtag #endmommywars — I don’t care if you mention me, or link to this blog post — maybe just tweet why you love working, or love staying at home and tag it. Let’s raise our voices in support of each other.
  • If you have a Flickr account, post a picture of you with your kids and tag it with endmommywars (or send it to me and I’ll post it for you).
  • If you have a blog, please post your own story: why you work, or why you stay at home, and why that’s the right decision for you. Post a link here in the comments, or tweet it with the hashtag. I will try to read every one.
  • Or, add your thoughts to the comments here. These are just the thoughts of one pissed off working mom. I welcome thoughts and analysis from anyone else who wants to chime in.
  • I’m going to try to pull together some video responses, too. If you have the time and the technology, please record a video with your thoughts on this.

Let’s stop this silliness, everyone!

Thanks for listening.

Podcast #3: Social Media for Job Searching

In our third podcast we talk about some ways to think about social media for job searching. It’s more exciting than it sounds! (Not really, but just go with it.)

Listen Online

Click the cute little button below to stream the audio in your browser window.


Think about three things:

1. Using social media (blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.) as ways to generate content about yourself that exposes your smart, savvy brain to potential employers (or people that could help you find potential employers).

2. Using social media to build and expand your network. Find and reach people in your industry that you previously would have had no access to. (Like, on Twitter: follow hashtags for events that are attended by the people you are trying to reach. I mentioned #mimasummit as an example.)

3. Do your homework! You now have NO EXCUSE for showing up to an interview not knowing about the company and the work they do. Set yourself apart from a field of applicants by knowing, and caring, about the organization you’re interviewing with.

Geek Chic of the Week: The Cloud

Geeky reader Ellen wrote in to say, “Please explain what the Cloud is.”

Her question was very funny to me — only because we recorded a podcast a few weeks ago on exactly that topic! But, I screwed up the audio file and now we need to re-record it. Bummer. But, here’s how I replied:
The Cloud is how people refer to the services that many of us use for computing over the Internet. The most common examples are commonly known as “software as a service”. A good example is word processing applications. There is word processing software that runs on our computers — like Microsoft Word. For it to work, there needs to be enough disk space on our computers to run the software, and store the files we create with that software. You have a copy of that program on your computer, I have a copy on mine. For us to share a Word document, you have to send it to me.
By comparison, Google docs has a word processing application that exists in “the cloud.” To create a document there, you just log in to the Google docs website; creating and saving the document isn’t using any of the space or processing power of your own computer (aside from communicating to the server(s) that Google docs is living on. For you and I to share that document, you just need to grant me access to it. And, you and I can even edit the document at the same time — because it doesn’t exist on my computer, or on yours. It’s in an external location that we can both get to. That location is referred to as “the cloud.”

“Software as a service” means that I’m not buying the software in a box, I’m using a service that someone is providing to me online (in Google’s case, it’s free — in other cases you may pay for the software).
Another example of how the cloud can be used is Amazon’s web services. For example, their Simple Storage Service (S3). This is a way for web developers to essentially “rent” storage space in the cloud. Let’s say I want to add a bunch of huge video files to my web site, but I don’t have the space on my servers to handle it. Rather than investing in new hardware, I could instead use Amazon’s S3, put my files there, and my site’s users could access those files seamlessly. This is known as “infrastructure as a service.” There are lots of ways that IT professionals can make use of the cloud to minimize hardware costs — they basically take advantage of all the distributed server space in the cloud.
It can get kind of technical to describe, but the best and simplest way to think about it is that instead of things residing on our individual computers, the files, software, etc. exist out there in the ether. In that magical place called the Internet. Or, the cloud.

Oh — and it’s called the cloud because on network diagrams (where people map out all their servers and printers and computers and how they were all connected), the Internet was represented as a cloud. You can see an example here.
Wikipedia actually has a pretty good article about the cloud here — it gets a little bit technical the deeper you get into it, but it provides a good overview.

P.S. I just noticed you’re emailing me from gmail. Guess what? Your mail is in the cloud!

I heard back from Ellen who said, “Your explanation really helped. My husband explained this too me but it didn’t quite make sense. Having your explanation below allowed me to ‘get it’.  Thank you. I’m glad I found you and your site.”

Geek Girls, FTW! Thanks for writing, Ellen.

MIMA Summit: Notes From the “Closing the Gap” Session

Last year, Nancy and I hosted a conversation about women in Interactive (I can’t remember what we called it. I just remember the original title, “WTF: Where the Females?” which they revised to something more innocuous).

Last Monday, Dave Schroeder (@flashbelt) and I hosted a discussion at this year’s MIMA Summit titled, Closing the Gap: A Discussion About Diversity. This year’s conversation was, quite rightly, expanded to cover issues beyond just gender. It was designed to be a group discussion, but in preparation Dave and I put together an outline. (You know, just in case everyone got all Minnesotan and didn’t ask any questions.)

It was a great session. I would have loved it if the crowd would have been standing room only, but we at least filled all the seats (especially considering that we were up against sessions like @scottmonty from Ford). And, frankly, I wasn’t entirely surprised — there are plenty of people who’d rather talk about something else, plenty of people who feel like there is no lack of diversity or that — if there is — it’s not really a problem (seriously, I had someone say that to me the other day). Those who did show up brought some great insights.

So, here’s our outline along with some notes and commentary. (Shout out to @whitneytaylor for being our volunteer note-taker and to @ivan_nunez for being our Twitterhost!) Also, was great to meet @jaredlukes, @carlos_abler, @melshirley and @kdfindley in person! (There were lots of other people there, too — if you’d like a mention, drop me a line. I didn’t get to talk to everyone one-on-one!)


  • How many people know about Geek Girls Guide? About Flashbelt? Have been to Flashbelt?
    • Most people in the group had heard about the Flashbelt thing (which you can read about here, here and here.) Carlos Abler made a fantastic point during the course of the discussion, that shocking events help you realize what other people are feeling. They help you learn empathy by looking at how and why a person — or a group of people — felt a certain way. He also said that events help you take a postion on an issue, opening up conversation, rather than just starting the conversation out of the blue, which can be harder. Amen, Carlos! This is a great point. For me, the absolute best thing that came out of the Flashbelt situation was the conversations it has opened up.
  • Who’s here today? Developers? Marketers? Designers? IAs? Facebookers? Twitterers?
    • There was a good mix of job titles in the crowd: developers, designers, project managers, IAs — we ran the gamut.
  • How long have you been in the industry? 0-5, 5-10, 10+
    • Again, a good mix of people with a broad range of experience.
  • How many people consider their workplaces:   1. very diverse    2. sort of diverse     3. not diverse
    • Most people considered their workplace “sort of” or “not” diverse. Not surprising, since we’re talking about an industry that lacks diversity and we’re in Minnesota (which, according to 2007 government stats is 89% white).
  • Let’s talk ballpark stats
    • We talked about how hard it is to get overall stats for the interactive industry as a whole. Most stats focus on the dearth of female developers. Other parts of our industry, like designers, writers, information architects, etc. may be more diverse but it’s hard to know.
    • Dave found a fan-freaking-tastic set of stats from A List Apart which shows the industry as overwhelmingly male and overwhelmingly white. While most of the respondents were developers, there are many other job titles represented in this survey.


  • What do we mean when we talk about diversity? Race, Gender, Age, Disabled?
    • One conversation that came up around diversity was age. One point being that this can be — like advertising — a “young man’s game.” Meaning, the hours and demands can be crazy. Someone brought up the salary issue (women right now make about 78 cents to every dollar earned by a men) and that, in this economy, both young people and women can be seen as desirable beacuse they are willing to work for less. Someone wondered what the industry will do with the “baby boom” of developers that hit an age and don’t want that lifestyle anymore?
  • Why is it important?
  • How does it affect your work, the quality of your work, the quality of your work life?
    • One person mentioned that a diverse team can lead to richer work.
    • We asked everyone why they came. One person pointed out that ours was the only session talking about the people working in Interactive rather than the products or technology. I think this is a great point, and one I’d like to bring up to the folks over at MIMA. Future Summits should include more conversation about the culture of our industry.
    • Somebody else brought up that we work in an irreverent industry. One point that I made is that, while I think issues of diversity and equality are incredibly important, I would hate to see our industry become overly politically correct-ified. If that makes any sense. I love working in an industry that is not formal or stuffy; so, how do we maintain that culture AND be inclusive? I think it’s a happy medium that is difficult, but possible, to find.


So what can we do as individuals  in our own lives to encourage and foster more diversity around us?

  • Mentor (be one, get one)
    • Encourage people in your organization to get involved with mentorship programs, especially in mentoring kids or young professionals outside of our usual networks. @melshirley talked about how her company (a mentoring company) matches executives with kids they would otherwise not encounter. 
    • So, how can we expand outside of our usual networks to reach out to kids (or other adults) that would benefit from our expertise? How could we open the door for a person who otherwise may not know much about the industry.
    • More outreach and introduction to the industry as a whole, for the younger generations (in schools). @KDFindley made a wonderful observation about how more of us should be getting into the schools; it’s unlikely that guidance counselors are even aware of the careers that we have.
    • Carlos stated this as “Create an empowerment model for kids rather than fixing broken adults.” Another person in the group wondered if shifting the talk to empowering kids brushing off the issue now and hope they will fix it tomorrow?
  • Raise boys and girls the same (don’t reinforce stigmas or misconceptions intentionally or accidentally)
  • Subtle environmental things – jokes, holidays, heroes, villains
    • This is a personal peeve of mine. I’ve been known to make my friends and family really uncomfortable if I hear them make a joke that I think is insulting I will say, “That’s not funny.” and walk away. (Wow, I’m making myself sound like a lot of fun at parties, aren’t I?) Most of what we encounter in our daily lives are not “shocking events” but small things that we may not even be conscious of. We should all start being more conscious.
  • Get involved with local programs, start programs, start a blog, become a resource
  • How can you push a diverse culture upwards towards your employers? (encourage corporate sponsorship of something – start something – interns)
    • “Everyone wants this issue to resolve on its own, or not at all. Know where you’re at and live it.” said Dave.
    • “Acknowledge that other cultures and groups have different ways of doing things. Our attitude should be, ‘Here are the tools, do it on your terms.'” Ivan talked about his experience as a person who speaks both English and Spanish and how he’s had people respond to his Spanish tweets with, “English, please.”
    • Dave made a great point, which is that we can’t force the 50/50 thing, but we can work to remove all barriers to entry so that a more fair representation (by gender, race, etc.) would be possible.
  • How do we make working more flexible, we have the technology?
    • This was my point, and one I believe in quite strongly. We are still a new industry, and the access and expertise we have with technology means that we shouldn’t feel constrained to fit into these old business models. As an example, most of the points at which women tend to drop out of the workforce could be mitigated by a more flexible workplace. As a personal example, when I had my second child (which is a point at which many women stop working because of the additional responsibilites of a second child, along with the daycare costs which can sometimes exceed their salary), I presented a plan to my company to institute a Babies at Work program. My son came to work with me several days a week up until he was 6 months old. When I went back to work with my daughter, I worked from home one day a week for the first 6 months. We have the technology! Let’s start using it to create the inclusive, flexible workplaces of the future. There is ROI there, I swear it.


Minnesota High Tech Association –  http://www.mhta.org/
Minnesota Computers for Schools – http://www.mncfs.org/
Minnesota MentorNet: A Statewide E-Mentoring Partnership – http://www.mentornet.net/
The Community Technology Empowerment Project (CTEP) AmeriCorps – http://wip.technologypower.org/about/
SeniorNet  –  http://www.seniornet.org/jsnet/
Center for Children and Technology – http://cct.edc.org/
Internal Drive Summer Computer Camps for Kids – http://www.internaldrive.com/
Digital Media Academy – http://digitalmediaacademy.org/
Finding Ada Lovelace –  http://findingada.com/
Girls in Tech  – http://girlsintech.net/
Minnesota Women in Marketing and Communications – http://www.mnwc.org

If you have more thoughts on the session or resources to add, we’d love to hear them!

Thanks for coming. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being you.