What are your inputs?

The noise swirls around our heads like a never ending stream of consciousness from the outside world. Managing the way that you digest it, the way that you plug into it (or it plugs into you), is the only realistic way to turn that noise into something useful.

The goal of the average information consumer should be to manage their inputs. I’m going to define inputs as the tools that we use to help us digest information.

I work for a distributed company, which means that the only way to communicate is to over communicate. We use a network of internal blogs running the P2 Theme to communicate about everything from taking time off from work to enhancements to WordPress.com. These blogs really do move at the speed of thought and there are a lot of them.

As you can imagine, there is a lot of information flowing on a consistent basis, which means that the only way to keep yourself from over-saturation is to manage your inputs in a structured way. This is a dance I’m currently working on perfecting.

In life, I think the majority of things that we need inputs for are self imposed: Social Networks, Email, Work, Appointments, Family, Friends, Shopping, Eating, Fashion, and on and on.

The question that I ask myself daily is how can I design my inputs to make sure that I convert the noise into something useful?

I use some inputs to help flow outputs to me in a way that I can digest:

  • My iPhone I use almost exclusively for Social Media and personal conversations. In fact, my phone has become the De facto input for all communications that are not work related: SMS, MMS, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • My iPad I use for reading and watching. It’s my media digestion input. I know that when I open my iPad, I’ll be diving into the New York Times, Tech Crunch, Netflix, or any other media that tickles my fancy.
  • My MacBook Air is for work, and work alone. This is where I digest most of my email, work documentation, tools, and other professional communications. I also use it for writing.

Of course, the wires between my inputs cross on a daily basis, but I try my best to control that. For example, I use iMessages on my computer to text throughout the workday. This helps me to keep my concentration on a single screen space instead of pulling out my phone to respond to a message. It’s a delicate balance to keeps inputs separate, but I think it’s important to find the balance that works for you.

I’m constantly working to refine my inputs to match my outputs. I’d love to hear what works for you.

Awesome Twitter tool

I’ve been working on a little pet project for a while that has taken on a mind of its own. Last year, I was posed with the challenge of creating an easy way to take a large chunk of text (large as in LARGE, like the Tanakh, Large) and break it down into 140 character parts. The idea would be to tweet the entirety of a book, or a chapter of a book in a way where:

1) People that you’re tweeting to know how far into your tweeting you are.
2) All of the tweets include a hashtag so that they can be easily found.

Hence, the Twitter #Torah Tool was born.

It’s a pretty nifty little thing. You paste in the text that you want to cut into 140 character chunks into the top box, and it slices and dices it for you and plops it into the bottom box. You can then take those chunks and tweet away! One bonus that I added was the ability to embed this tool on your own website.

Web Apps That Keep Me Going

I’m all over the web all-the-time, and I’ve found some pretty cool things along the way that really help me to do what I need to get done.

Here’s a few lesser known web apps that I’ve integrated into my daily freelance workflow, and honestly would be lost without:

drop.ioDrop.io: This is literally one of the coolest things on the web that I’ve seen. “Simple Private real-time sharing,” is what they say. “Super awesome and can’t-live-without-it” is what I say. This thing boasts upload/downloads/view online of files, voicemail, subscriptions, and yes, you can can even integrate it into your site (or client’s sites!) using their great API. Totally worth taking a look. It won’t cost you anything. Promise.

wiggioWiggio: Dude. If you’ve think you’ve collaborated online without Wiggio, you’ve got another thing coming. This site keeps you totally organized and has some of the most useful collaboration tools out there. Really. It’s kind of impossible not to stay on top of all of your projects with this thing. It’s totally free and my work would completely suffer without it.

FirebugFirebug: This is for the developer in you. Firebug takes the web and makes it malleable by letting you change/rebuild the CSS of any website. Imagine “view source” becoming interactive (and addictive!) and you’ve got Firebug. I won’t build a site without it, and generally I don’t even look at a website without even opening it once. I mean. Haven’t you always wanted to tweak the CSS of your Gmail account just for a giggle?

I’m always looking for the best stuff to integrate into my workflow. If you have something that you can’t live without and want to recommend it, feel free to give it a shout out in the comments.

-Alx

10 tips for an online identity as a freelance creative

This post originally appeared on DesigingLULA and has been cross posted here.


As a creative freelancer, your website is your key marketing platform. It needs to be clear, intuitive and really speak to what you do.

Here are 10 easy tips to creating a full-fledged online identity (that works!) in a digitally minded world:

1. URL. Make sure your URL is relevant to what you do, and make it simple and easy to remember. Your name alone is great—like alxblock.com or a mix of your name and trade like theluladesigns.com. Short and sweet is the key here.

2. TITLE. Remember that we are trying to make your site work for you, so we want people to be able to find you with a simple search. Make sure your name, trade, and location appear in the title of your site:

10bloglusite

This is an easy thing to do with by implementing the <title>REPLACE THIS WITH YOUR NAME, TRADE, AND LOCATION</title> tags in your header.

3. KEYWORDS. This is about selling YOU. You need to make sure that not only is your online portfolio a good representation of your work, but that it is fully visible. Your portfolio should include keywords that will allow the almighty Google bots to find you. Use keywords in the header by implementing the <meta name=”keywords” content=”INSERT COMMA SEPERATED KEYWORDS HERE”/> tag on each portfolio page.

4. CONTENT. Google likes dynamic over static. Make sure your site is built in a way that allows you to update it often with new content quickly and easily. Having a blog on your site is ideal because you can post something new every day, making your site much more interesting and allowing you to come up in the search results more often.

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5. BACKEND. I’m a huge fan of WordPress and use it on almost every site that I build (even this site is built completely on WordPress—portfolio and all.) With all of the plug-ins being created by developers worldwide, it gives you the largest selection of cool things to add to your site. The best part is that you need little-to-no technical knowledge to use it. It’s simple and effective. Make sure that the CMS that your site is built on is something that you can manage. Make sure it achieves your goals.

6. USABILITY. What good is an online portfolio if you can’t navigate it? Make sure your links are set-up in a way that is clear and intuitive. You always want to give your visitors somewhere to go next. As soon as they reach a dead-end page on your site, they are out of there and onto the next. Be as clear and bold as possible with your navigation.

7. AESTHETICS. Dude. Make it pretty. You’re a creative and this is the impression you are going to make on people. Make sure your images are clear, your type is clean, and your grammar is correct. People will judge your work based on how your site looks, so be sure that it’s as awesome as your work is.

8. NICHE. It’s impossible to appeal to everyone. Think long and hard about the people that you really want to target. If it’s non-profits, then be sure to include examples of your work done for non-profits. If you’re after agencies, then be sure to include a well rounded array of collateral materials. Make your portfolio relevant to your audience.

9. CONTACT. So now that someone has landed on your site, make sure that it is super easy for them to get in touch with you. Try having your email in the footer of each page. I would also recommend a full page dedicated to the ways people can get a hold of you. This could include badges to your social media profiles like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIN, or just a simple contact form for people to fill out:

10blogcontact

10. BRAND. As a freelance creative, you are the visual expert. Your site must be clear, effective, have a streamlined look and feel all the way down to the language that is used in speaking to your audience. Make sure that your fonts appear the same way on each page, the colors all work together, your logo is clear and present everywhere that they look, the language is consistent and that it all represents what you do.

I’m not trying to imply that these are the only things that make a successful site. Good traffic and a profitable return on your hard work can take some time. Be patient. Build that strong community by following these tips and the business will follow.

-Alx

http://alxblock.com

How to find and use your Facebook Status feed

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Update:
This method no longer works. It was certainly fun while it lasted.
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So I think that I’ve answered this question enough times now to warrant a little how-to on the topic.   Feeds are pretty useful things.  You can plop them anywhere and update the world without too much thought.

Why would you want to use your Facebook Status feed?

linkedin-facebook-twitterIf you’re like most people these days, you are totally into Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIN and any other social network under the ether.  If you’re like me, you feel like you can only keep track of one or two at a time.  Why not make it so that when you update your status on Facebook, it automatically Tweets?  Why not let everyone who’s “IN” know what’s on your mind?  Getting all of these media integrated is the key to making them work for you.  Or the key to making you not look so lazy.  Either way, integration is a great idea.

How to find your feed

I haven’t quite figured out an automatic way to do this, but there is a quick manual trick that works perfectly well.

1) Go to: http://www.facebook.com/notifications.php when you are logged into Facebook.

2) In the right sidebar, there is a button called “Your Notifications.” It has a little RSS icon next to it.  Well.  Click it.

3) Up will come your “notifications” feed.  Here is where the manual part comes in.  Change the word **notifications** to the word **status**

4) Follow the new link that you created.  It should look something like this:

http://www.facebook.com/feeds/status.php?id=yournumber&viewer=yournumber&key=b19ce192ce&format=rss20

And that’s it!

You can now use your Status Update feed anywhere.

There are pleanty of services out there like Twitterfeed or Ping that will walk you through using your feed on a variety of services.

Good luck and happy feeding!

-Alx

The Jewish Non-Profit Guide to Social Media Marketing

Cross posted from the JPS blog

socialmediabandwagonWhat a world and oy vey! There is so much digital swirl swooshing around your head every nano-second and you don’t have a clue how to even begin Social Media Marketing for your teeny tiny Jewish non-profit.

Well. We’re here to help.

In the past few months, JPS has moved to the next level with this stuff. Our blog is booming- we have over 1,000 fans on Facebook and over 1,200 followers on Twitter. These media have become three of the top ten referrers of web traffic to our regular website, and our hits have nearly doubled. We’re branding ourselves in a digital world, and I have to say, it’s pretty exciting for a 120 year old Jewish non-profit!

It can seem a bit overwhelming at first, but with a little bit of time you will be writing your own how-to tutorials!

Why Social Media Marketing?

Let’s face it: Most people live their lives online nowadays. They are there to connect, be social, find information, make purchases, and even order dinner. People are integrating their personal lives more and more with their internet lives by communicating only through Facebook and Twitter and saving on cell phone minutes. So why not join them?

The truth is that people don’t go online to be marketed to. People go online to achieve something.

So here is rule number one. Don’t market. Again. I’ll repeat rule number one. Don’t market.

online_business_networking_groupsThis is about meeting people where they are. This is about adding value to the internet and providing a resource for people on their own terms. It is not about the hard sell. You’ll just turn people away.

Great! I get it! Now how do I do it?

There are a bagillion web tools that people use daily. Yes, a new one pops up every time you get used to the last one. Yes, it’s hard to keep up with them all. But wait! You’re not alone. As a marketer, you are ahead of the curve. Your eyes are open wider than the general public’s. Their world is moving just as fast as yours, so take a deep breath. You can do this.

Here are some best practices for some of the big guns in the world of Web 2.0.

Facebook:

• Create both a Fan Page and a Cause for your non-profit. (A Fan Page must be connected to a personal profile, so be sure that you have one set up before you dive in. You’ll be glad you did.)

• Join groups of similar interest to your organization.

• Use your page to update fans about things relating to your world, but not necessarily your own work. For example, we post links to Jewish history sites for added value.

• Pull your blog posts into “Notes.” (More on blogging later.) Facebook offers some nifty ways to integrate your media and walks you through all of it.

• Be current. People judge pages based on how often you update. You can always set your Twitter feed to pull in automatically and update your status for you. (Yup. More on Twitter later.)

• Be colorful. The web is becoming increasingly about aesthetics. You want the quality of your logo to be good. Upload images as frequently as possible. Better yet, add videos to your page.

Twitter:

• Twitter is about conversation. So. Have some.

• You can speak directly to people by using the @ symbol and their username. So you should absolutely tell @jewishpub that you read this post and like it.

• Use hash tags (#) to talk about a specific subject or event. When I attended the AAUP conference I would tweet:

    twitter

• Don’t be afraid to hold Twitter-only contests. This is about getting people involved. For example, every Wednesday at 1:30 we give a free book away to anyone who can answer a trivia question based on something from our blog or website.

Blog:

• You can use a free blogging program like WordPress or Blogger to set up your blog in just a few clicks. (I’m partial to WordPress since you can install it on your own hosting and keep your own URL.)

• This is where you really get to add value to what you do. Since you work so hard for the greater good, you might as well talk about the greater good!

• Be yourself. People need to know that a person is writing and not an organization. If you’re smart enough to know the difference, so are your readers.

• It’s O.K. to plug your own work on your own blog, but the blog shouldn’t JUST be about that. If you work for a Jewish immigration organization, your topics could span from conditions in a certain country to the naturalization process.

• Pretty, pretty, pretty. Pictures, videos, links, colors, and fonts. You don’t have to make people love the look of your site; just don’t turn them away. Remember that simplicity is also good. Google won out over Yahoo! because Google was simple and Yahoo! was hectic.

• Promote the pants off of your blog (In three weeks, our blog has become the number one referrer of web traffic to our main website).

Ok! I’m on Facebook, Twitter, and have a Blog! Now what!?

NetworkingRemember that these things must work together in order to be able to work at all. You can tweet about your Blog post and send updates to your Facebook fans. You can set your Twitter account to update your Status on Facebook. You can link to all of your “spaces” right from your Blog. (Hey. It’s called a WEB for a reason, right?)

You have to keep up with it. The hardest part in all of this is staff time. I know that we all work hard, and none of us has a free moment in our busy Jewish non-profit world, but it must be done. Have a staffer tweet three times a day and write two blog posts a week. It will take less time than you think after the ball is rolling. Promise.

Once this is all set up and moving, you will start to see the results in just a few months. People will trust you more since you have met them on their level. You will become an expert in your field, because your sites will come up when Googled. People will begin to interact, and you will start to feel like you have made great strides in managing this digital swirl that is swooshing around your heads.

-Alx

Interacting With the World

What does interacting with the world mean?

Each of us lives our lives with some purpose.  Each purpose is different for each person.  We often get caught up in our own little worlds and forget that we are made up of our interactions.  We are who we play with.

Interacting with the world is another way of saying that I am made up of more than just me.  I am complete only with the actions and ideas of others.  Your innovations.  Your genius.  Your caring.  Your intelligence.

Since this concept is as macro as a concept can get, I have decided to embrace this idea and roll with it as much as I can.

Here are a few of my tools for interacting with the world:

In future posts I will explain just how to use each one to interact with your world.  It’s all about harnessing the power of Social Media to build your space.

-Alx