What if, instead of feeding free content to corporations like Twitter, we started blogging again?

I’ve been thinking of using this platform for microblogging–posting “tweets” here instead of on Twitter.

It’s difficult to shake the idea that blog posts are permanent and tweets ephemeral.

And admittedly I am hosting this on WordPress, not on my own host, and ads are part of the package.

This is my first post using the WordPress app on my phone. The tiny keyboard promotes brevity.

There is also the concern that on Twitter there is a chance of an audience. Here? Not so much.

Auto-posting from WordPress to Twitter is tacky, imo.

Uaing “imo” in a blog post felt wrong.

I still say blog “post” instead of just “blog.”

This concludes my twog of the day. I tried and failed to keep it under 140 characters.

The Bloggess Bump

Recently, thanks to a retweet from the Bloggess, one of my tweets went viral:

The tweet gained further steam when Buzzfeed embedded it in an article.

First, the story behind the tweet:

It was 1999 and I’d just moved to New York City to try to be a writer-musician-something-or-other. I didn’t have a job yet, so I visited a staffing agency that specialized in editorial work. They had me fill out a job application and one of the questions was “where are you willing to work?” Easy question, right? I wrote that I was willing to travel to all five New York boroughs.

EXCEPT. I had never actually written the word “borough” before and did not know how to spell it. So my answer came out like this:

“Any of the five boros boroughs bouroughs.”

Remember, I was seeking an editorial job — something writer-y that would require basic spelling skills. The nice lady interviewing me took one glance at my application and I knew I was toast. We went through the motions of a “job interview” and then she stood up to shake my hand and say goodbye. (In my tweet I might have embellished the number of people I shook hands with; it’s hard to remember exactly.)

And that’s when I tried to make a hasty exit, only to open a door and be confronted by a closet full of coats. There was nothing to do but back up and close the door.

“I bet that happens all the time!” I said.

“No, you’re the first,” the nice lady said.

Thinking back, I am pretty sure that the coat closet was very clearly a coat closet. It was not a door that was adjacent and identical to the actual exit. It was more like a freestanding, wood-paneled wardrobe, and I walked right on in.

I did not get called back.

Now… the tweet. Previously, none of my nearly 8,000 tweets — since 2007! — had gained the attention of more than a few IRL friends and Twitter acquaintances. I’m (mostly) fine with this, although I have a big enough ego to secretly long for Twitter fame and feel like a failure for not having achieved it.

It was surreal when I started seeing my notifications go haywire. The first thing I did was turn off email notifications, because I’d seen what can happen to other suddenly-Twitter-famous, as I was sure I was destined to be.


Overnight, the retweets poured in. At work the next day, someone posted to our team Slack channel a link to the Buzzfeed article — and only afterward did anyone (myself included) notice that my tweet had been embedded there. That led to TONS more activity for about a week. (Side note: Twitter changed their stars into hearts right in the middle of this. It was weird.)

I’d always kind of hoped something like this would happen, but I was mostly detached and numb to the experience when it actually did. It was a throwaway tweet, composed while my son was talking my ear off about dinosaurs. (Bad daddy!)

I was more interested in the data behind a viral tweet. Do retweets attract new followers? Was I going to finally be Twitter-famous? (Not really, and hell no.)

We’ll start with the raw data, as of today:

Impressions 58,151
Total engagements 2,260
Detail expands 913
Likes 899
Retweets 338
Profile clicks 88
Replies 18
Follows 3
Link clicks 1

The “Follows” row means that someone followed me directly from the tweet. That’s uncommon; people are more likely to view your profile and then decide whether to follow. In reality I picked up approximately 35 new followers.

So, less than one tenth of one percent (0.06%) of people who saw the tweet followed me as a result. (0.01% followed directly from the tweet itself.)

3.89% of people who saw the tweet “engaged” with it in some way. This could be a fav/like, retweet, reply, mention, etc.

1.55% of people who saw the tweet favorited or liked it.

0.58% of people who saw the tweet retweeted it.

0.15% of people who saw the tweet viewed my profile.

The tweet is still getting several engagements per day, but the trajectory has slowed considerably.


It was fun for awhile, but now I’m much more excited when a tweet other than this one gets any kind of activity. It’s taught me another lesson about the value of having a tight circle of friends compared to a mass of strangers.

However, the momentum may get another boost. Someone from Buzzfeed contacted me to ask permission to use it in a video. I have no idea what that means, but I said yes. I’ll update this post if anything happens. Also, thank you Bloggess!

Don't give us stuff. Give to great causes instead.

Since our first child was born in 2004, we’ve had a Christmas policy:

  • DON’T give us any  stuff.
  • DO give stuff to our kids.
  • DO donate to a good cause instead of giving us stuff.
  • We’ll do the same for you and your kids.

For the most part, our family has adhered to this policy, although a few cable-knit sweaters still sneak under the tree each year.

This year we’ve given to several organizations, and I thought I’d zoom in on those we gave to via Help Attack!, which enables you to pledge to nonprofits every time you post something to Facebook or Twitter. Below are the organizations we supported in 2011. The links go to a pledge page on the Help Attack! website.

Health Alliance for Austin Musicians

Mobile Loaves & Fishes

Sierra Club Foundation

Southwest Key Programs

St. Baldricks Foundation

Sundt Memorial Foundation

Wikimedia Foundation

Help Attack! was not the only means by which we gave to charity in 2011, and none of our donations through Help Attack! were large (the median was around $20). But by using Help Attack! we definitely gave more than we ordinarily would have, and to a greater number of nonprofits.

However you choose to give, as you check off those last-minute gift lists, consider giving to a great cause in lieu of wrapped gifts that ultimately wind up in a landfill. (Not that I don’t love cable-knit sweaters, Grandma.)

Happy New Year!

#But #seriously. #Enough with the #hashtags.

I was being snarky when I created this pie chart, posted here on July 11:

Infographic: Twitter Hashtags

But I was also being serious. Hashtags are overused, especially by marketers. Too many hashtags will make your tweets unreadable and will alienate your followers. You should ask yourself these questions before adding a hashtag to a tweet.

Is anyone ever going to search for information based on that hashtag?

And by “anyone” I mean “anyone sane.” There are lots of useful hashtags, especially those that identify a shared experience like a conference or live TV show. But overly broad hashtags like #web #marketing #guru only clutter your tweets. Anyone clicking that type of hashtag is clearly insane and you don’t want them in your life.

Tweet from @imthq

Follow @imtheq

Tweet from @bryanAndaya

Follow @BryanAndaya

Is it funny?

 You be the judge.

Tweet from @TheSulk

Follow @thesulk

Tweet from @meganamram

Follow @meganamram

Is it part of a meme?

Tread carefully: If you’re trying to start a meme with a hashtag you will most likely fail.

tweet from @_snape

Follow @_snape_

Tweet from @satellitehigh

Follow @satellitehigh

Any questions? Did I miss anything?

Please tell me what you had for lunch

tubular tacoTwitter often gets dismissed as “people with no life tweeting what they had for lunch.” I’ve been on Twitter since 2007 and have come to value the what-I-had-for-lunch tweet. Knowing what you had for lunch helps me get to know you a little better. And if you post what you had for lunch, you’re probably also posting about the sound your cat makes when she snores or the latest funny thing your kid said. (I am guilty on all counts.)

And this is okay.

Last year I attended a talk by Guy Kawasaki on “How to Use Twitter as a Marketing Weapon.” “I don’t read your tweets,” he said. “I only read the ones that mention me.” If you follow @guykawasaki you’ll see that all he does is broadcast links back to his own website. There’s no right way or wrong way to use Twitter, but his method only applies if you have a business model like his, that is, a link-bait website with lots of advertisements.

For most people on Twitter, tweeting what you had for lunch makes sense. It creates a connection to a human being. And in the aggregate, a few million “lunch tweets” can reveal all sorts of things. For example, Twitter is now being used to make stock-market projections (by tracking consumer sentiment), and to track allergy and influenza outbreaks. These trends would not be trackable if the mundane, everyday tweets were replaced by marketing weapons.

By the way, I had a spinach-and-shrimp tubular taco at Hula Hut today.

Austin is Grupthink-Powered

I moved to Austin in summer 2009, but I’ve felt it was my destiny to live here since 1986, when the Dead Milkmen’s Eat Your Paisley! was released. On “Six Days” the band sings about all the crappy cities they’ve visited. But the final verse is about Austin:

paisley.jpgI loved it in Austin
I wanted to stay
Cheap rent and Lone Star beer
Lots o’ places to stay

(Complete lyrics here.)

Cheap rent is a thing of the past but we still have the beer, and so much more. In 2003 I married a Texan (and Austinite of 10+ years), then lived in Seguin, TX for a bit (escaping to ATX every chance we got), spent four years back east, and now we’re finally where we belong.

I realize I’m a complete interloper here, but thanks in large part to Twitter and, more recently, membership in the Austin chapter of the American Marketing Association, I’m beginning to feel part of the community. And since I’m a (mostly) silent partner in Grupthink, I felt it was appropriate to build a Grupthink community for my fellow Austinites.


In Grupthink communities you ask open-ended question (i.e. not yes/no) and then allow the community to add, vote upon, and rank answers. Newspapers are beginning to use Grupthink to power their “Best of (City)” issues. It’s all a great deal of fun once the community reaches critical mass.

Anyway, if you’re in Austin, or if you like Austin, or if you’re at least pretty sure you can find Austin on a map, please join in. If you don’t want to create yet another user ID you can log in with Facebook Connect.

Thanks. I love you, Austin!  

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Why Twitter?

When Sarah and I worked at a small-town newspaper, we ran a column that asked local citizens to name five guests, living or dead, whom they would invite to a dinner party. Jesus, Elvis, and George W. Bush were the most popular choices.

What does this have to do with Twitter? When people complain that they don’t “get” Twitter, that’s it’s all noise and what-I-had-for-lunch minutia, I describe the way I use Twitter: I treat it like a party with carefully handpicked guests—like Truman Capote’s Black & White Ball.

Here’s how I do it:

First of all, I limit the number of people I follow to 100. By being picky about whom I follow, I force myself to seek a diverse group of interesting human beings from different walks of life. I might one day follow 200 or maybe 500, but I will never follow thousands of people. I’m pretty sure the only reason to follow thousands of people is to try to get thousands of people to follow you back. Today I have only 72 followers. While I would like to have more, I want people to follow me on the merits of what I post, not just because I am following them.

Back to the party metaphor: What is different about Twitter, compared to most parties I’ve been to, is that with Twitter it is easy to eject boring, unwanted guests and replace them with more interesting ones.

The other nice thing about Twitter is that it’s okay to be a wallflower—or better yet, a fly on the wall. I often go days without tweeting, but I check Twitter constantly just to see how the conversation is going. Because my “guests” are people I know personally and/or they are interesting and/or useful to me, there is always something worth eavesdropping.

So whom do I follow? Right now I am making the transition from full-time employee to self-employed contractor, so my tweetstream is dominated by people in my field and city who provide job leads, tips for freelancers and the like. But I also follow tennis players (@andyroddick, @clijsterskim), politicians (@billwhitefortx, @BarackObama), entertainers (@SarahKSilverman, @geneweingarten, @pennjillette), bloggers (@anildash, @dooce), and a few who have made a name for themselves via Twitter alone (@shitmydadsays, @sween@mktgdouchebag). And of course, friends and family (for as long as they stay interesting anyway).

In the last couple months my austere Twitter approach has netted me one job interview, one brunch meetup, two or three web services I now consider essential, loads of entertainment and the occasional belly laugh. Could I do it better? Of course I could. My follow list is constantly evolving with the goal of finding the 100 (or 200 or 500) most interesting human beings in the world. This will only get harder—and more fun—as more people sign on.

You can view everyone I’m following here. I’ll attempt to sort these out into lists one of these days. And don’t forget to follow me!