What Becomes of Content in 2015?

cwordThe word “content” has supplanted itself as The Marketing Word in 2014, to the point that I’m hard-pressed to find a digital headline or article without it this past year. Then there are the white papers, conferences, books, and even the Content Marketing Institute (sounds very heady, doesn’t it?). You get the idea. But let’s get some perspective here: Content, in all its incarnations over the years, was simply called something else—be it copy, copywriting, promotion, website content, marketing blurbs, plain old writing, insert big etcetera here. With the rise of social media and other digital marketing to further a brand—whether posts or podcasts, vines or viral videos—this marketing expansion now sits under the same umbrella: Content. One and all. The blending of terms combined with the craving for sky high shares brought to the forefront big changes swirling around in advertising, journalism, and marketing the past several years. Some good, some not so good. I believe we reached a tipping point in 2014 and are venturing to the point of no return. Sure, there is plenty of smart, insightful, and creative content out there, but it is overshadowed by junky digital filler caused by “content mania” and insatiable need to feed the social media sharing beast. Let me explain.

Sponsored Content, aka Native Ads

This kind of promotion has been around for ages in other forms (corporate advertorial in trade magazine, anyone?) But online sponsored content is a bit more dangerous in such prolific quantities. Why? It’s more than a hoodwink; it confuses consumers expecting unbiased articles, whether they care or not.

Sponsored content has seen explosive growth in the past few years due to the expansion of digital publishers, coupled with news outlets desperately looking for a panacea to cover plummeting ad profits. Mission definitely accomplished, but the tricky (read: ethical) part is the barely-there line between “real articles” and those brought to us by our favorite and not-so-favorite brands. Even the bastion of buttoned-up news, the New York Times, got into the sponsored content business. You see, the lines have really (really) blurred, even for the Gray Lady. The FCC stepped in to help consumers identify sponsored content, but many readers eat it up if it’s “interesting” no matter how indigestible the thought of brand involvement might be. Studies show it decreases trust of content, but it doesn’t stop them from clicking.

Brand Journalism

Which leads us another trend from the content explosion—brand journalism—companies who deploy articles the way a news reporter might—factual information? Yes, but with words that supports the brand’s message, liifestyle, or agenda. This content fuels brands with a great resource for well-written blogs, C-level ghostwriters, and sponsored content, not to mention spawning new careers for jaded journalists, frustrated fiction writers, and corporate careerists looking for a fresh start.

Hootsuite’s CEO Ryan Holmes even nonchalantly dropped a reference to its corporate “newsrooms” at a conference earlier this year. A reach perhaps, but it appears to be the future of The Brand. Welcome to the new blurry world of the “news” where articles you read might not have a clear bias but the source of the materials will.

Attack of the Content Creators

Another way content has taken hold lately is the crazy-big growth of “content creators,” “content experts,” and other fill-in-the-blank content titles (full disclosure: I brand myself this way too). Hardly anyone is simply a “writer” anymore. Sure, including a white-hot industry in your title might make your keywords stand out more, but consider the downside: lots of competitors use this title too, making it a crowded field.

Digital publishing outfits like the Huffington Post, Gawker, and other media companies large and small often won’t pay or divvy out peanuts based on article shares. After all, if you won’t write for free, someone else more hungry for the lure of digital fame will. The more that writers that offer their services without compensation or laughably low pay, the more devalued the profession becomes. This cannot be undone (another disclosure: I have written for zero pay to get my name out there). I get why it happens—it’s called supply and demand—but there is collective power in writers holding out for what we deserve instead of giving in to this pressure.

On their own, none of these trends is necessarily catastrophic for content. But when you put them together it gives me great concern to think where content is going in 2015 with the jumbling of words, images, and audio breeding only as share fodder, the cocktail of news and brand agenda, coupled with the cheapening of writing as a craft, I wonder if we’ve lost some of our core quality standards and beliefs in what content is about. Like the “click-bait headlines” that trick us into thinking we’re getting one thing instead of another, we’re fooling no one but ourselves to say it doesn’t matter in the future.

Image: Velocity Partners

Small Business Saturday is Every Day

openOn November 29, as American Express does every year, it will again promote Small Business Saturday—and so will retail, consulting, and other entrepreneurs in large and small towns across America. Truth be told, I’ve always had mixed feelings about this annual event. While it puts those of us who work our butts off every day in the limelight for day (coinciding with Black Friday—surprise), there is still the smell of corporate money that permeates the air, and it reeks just a tad. That said, with small business and entrepreneurship stronger than ever, I offer my ode to “us”, the small business owner. I should know, I’ve been a consultant for 15 years and wouldn’t have it any other way.

Labor of love

Everyone who has ever started a business has a story, myself included. Maybe corporate life was becoming too much of a grind, there was an unexpected lay off, or that Next Big Idea just wouldn’t go away from our brains. Whatever the motivation, the end result is to be a small business owner. It is a core part of our identities, and we want more than anything is for it to be successful. The alternative? Not much. This is our lifeblood and doing something different usually just doesn’t feel “right.”

We have blended lives

If any small business owner tells you they leave work at their retail store, desk in the upstairs office or on their tablet, they are lying (or gently fibbing to themselves). Running a business is a constant process—whether it’s bookkeeping, ensuring that orders get out before a holiday, or planning the next marketing campaign, our brain neurons are always firing (or misfiring) ideas, to-do lists, and ruminating what we did wrong or perfectly right and want to repeat again.

We never go on autopilot

One of the best things you’ll get from a small business is creativity: it might be uncovering that one way to make a deal work, whipping up a new promotion just for you, or coming up with fresh ways to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Experimenting with something new is a regular occurrence, if not, business gets stale. We are always thinking and wanting to make ourselves invaluable to you (but not in a desperate way), not to mention us entrepreneur types get bored easily.

Special orders don’t upset us 

As with corporations, there’s always that “one”. Liken it to your customer that always calls the complaint line, revisits the contract 50 times, or any other time-sucking and irksome behavior. The difference? We deal with it on an intimate level instead of as a company. We can’t sluff it off to a manager or customer service—we are customer service (and CEO and CMO and everything else). We are composed of nerve and grit and rely on this often when dealing with our, um…our “special” folks. In the end, these types of customers make us stronger, teach us lessons, and can bring positive changes for how we manage our business in the future.

You are our “regular paycheck”

When you have a full-time job you know you’re going to get paid on a schedule.  For those of us who have a small business it is not an assumed. We put our trust in you to be our source of income. We give you our all and expect that we’ll be compensated fairly and on time. Customers and clients that stretch out payments, lose invoices, or use delay tactics make a difference in our financial lives (and not in a good way). Small businesses don’t have the cash flow that corporations  do—those dollars really matter to us. We may not tell you that directly but it’s true.

We go the extra mile

I can’t speak for all small businesses, but as a rule, if you want an article turned around ASAP, a substitute in that gift basket, or an extra rounds on that consult for free—we will do it. Why? Because we have a relationship with you, appreciate your business, and can “make up our own rules” (otherwise known as flexibility). This can’t always be said for a corporation. Our relationship gives us a sense of satisfaction and pride when we can give you what you want. “You saved the day” and “You’re awesome” means a lot to us. That one-to-one exchange can’t always be replicated with larger companies.

Word-of-mouth is our bread and butter

There’s a reason reviews on Yelp, Trip Advisor, and LinkedIn carry such weight in the online world: they make up the referral world that we all live in, and we rely on it heavily. Then there’s offline—the real world—which has been around since business has: an introduction through a colleague or a neighbor that steps into your store after hearing a glowing recommendation. These help add up to business sustenance. They also drive us to do better and strive to be the best for you.

At its core, Small Business Saturday may be just a smart promotion for one of the largest companies in the free world. But kudos to Amex for recognizing the trials, tribulations, and hard work of millions of small businesses—at least once a year anyway. More importantly, a toast to us—the ones who do the work all the time.

Blog Power Grows Up at WordPress Camp

wpstarrynightIt was my first and last WordPress Camp in San Francisco, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because it’s outgrown its location and will be transformed into a global event next year. It’s no surprise either, with the WordPress mission to “democratize publishing” on a trajectory to being realized. Fact: WordPress powers almost 25% of all sites on the web or 342 blog posts a minute (that’s 7.9B annually). After 11 years, WordPress hasn’t just arrived, it’s getting its extreme close-up. This was also reflected in the topics. My expectations of widgets and coding were met with many “big picture” presentations. Here were some of the more interesting old-to-new themes (get it? get it?).

The State of Word

Matt Mullenweg, WordPress God and co-founder, with his low-key, wry and affable demeanor, talked honestly about the bittersweet growth of WordCamp from 9 to 81 and outsizing the Mission Bay Conference Center. Other topics included the site fixes coming up this year, including better managing the reviled plugins that frustrate its users, security issues tightened up, and cleaning up the stats system and making it more user-friendly. The big hope? The  dream of an auto-updated WordPress site instead of the current patchwork of versions and manual upgrades (Side note: ironically, WordPress often makes random changes to its interface, both small and large, which I’ve always found a bit odd and discombobulating. Then again, WordPress is free so I can’t complain).

It’s a Multi-Device Platform World, Let’s Deal With It

Sizing right or “responsive design” on mobile, tablets, and PCs is a no-brainer these days, but we need to think about this equation differently, according to Luke Wroblewski, who runs a digital design and strategy firm. He gave a fascinating talk about how human behaviors and ergonomics associated with them are equally important as quantitative factors like distance, size, and other “hard facts.” The free-flowing, multi-device platform world we live in now ranges from the smallest of computers, like Google Glass, to ginormous LED screens that we slide seamlessly among for the technology we need at that particular time. How we interact between devices, sometimes simultaneously, counts as much as anything else. Taking all of these factors into consideration is key for product development of the future. In other words, using human behavior and environment as guideposts, devices will be designed according to what we do with them, not by their physical form. In many ways, this is new territory.

Know Blog Rules But Break Them, Too

We’ve heard a million times about how the consumer ultimately decides what your brand is, but according to Internet-famous bloggers at WordPress, your blog should ooze and seep your personality, in a good way. Crafty Chica enthusiastically talked about finding your purpose and style within “the lane that works for you” (while also spreading the word “glitter” generously in her talk). Or as Chris Lema put it, “Take a corner no one is fighting for” when you choose your blog topic, and go bold with a strong stance. He pointed out that readers are tired of lists and how-tos; they crave and expect more these days with all the content out there. Why do you like one SEO strategy more than another? What is behind your opinion? Writer and academic Christine Harkins pointed out that, “Blogs exist for two reasons: to move people to action or to connect with people.” She defined blog voice as “writing the way you talk, sharing what you know, and telling the truth.” Amen to that. She even offered up a smattering of amusing copyrights suited just perfectly to the personality of the blogger.

So look for this impromptu copyright on my blog one of these days: “If you’ve got a big following, go ahead and steal my stuff—I’ll just quote you later and take credit.”

Image: Moufflets blog (and Van Gogh), WordPress logo contest, 2009 entry. I hope it won!

My 6 Insights From a Pitchfest

pitchesLiving in Silicon Valley for 20+ years and in San Francisco for the past four, I have been around technology for quite a spell. Now is one of the most exciting times to be in the thick of tech. Sure there is the annoying “brogrammer” culture, hipster entrepreneurs swigging from $200 wine bottles at SF restaurants, and rents and real estate rising faster than you can say “WhatsApp.” But it’s still thrilling to be here, both as participant and observer from the sidelines. With that, it’s on everyone’s tech bucket list to attend at least one pitch fest. I got lucky and scored a home run: a VC/Investor panel discussion AND company pitches. Here’s what I learned:

#1 Startup events are (intentionally) a bit messy and disorganized

Before I went, I asked a friend who has attended many what I should wear. Jeans seemed too casual but dressing up seemed dorky. His sage words: “Dress better than most so people will think you’re important.” Done. The event was held in a steamy, industrial-ish downstairs of a co-working space. The frazzled hostess kept things amusing throughout: announcing there was a break between presentations, and then not, and then there is. Asking to borrow someone’s Mac for a PowerPoint, fixing the feedback-ing mic numerous times, interrupting speakers to interject her thoughts. You get the idea. Somehow these incidents made the event seem more startup-y and authentic, though it was closer to a crash-and-burn for a corporate event-planning pro like myself.

#2 It’s awkward to present when your country is squashing democracy

It was unfortunate timing for a Hong Kong incubator presenting a detailed, lavish pitch on the benefits of setting up shop and making your first million there. Problem was, it was the same day the political chaos in Hong Kong was topping headlines. I waited for the presenter to reference it, but the elephant in the room stayed quiet, or in this case, the police, protesters and tear gas. It would have been appropriate to say something vague and innocuous like: “We are thinking about everyone in our country during this difficult time.” It shows an awareness and sensitivity to issues other than the almighty dollar bill.

#3 Corporate portmanteaus are still a thing

One of the investor companies from England played an upbeat, chock full o’Brit perky video promoting the milieu of ways that startups should work with their firm. It was smooth sailing until the horribly matched words like “glocal” and “talentricity” reared their oversized font heads onto the screen. It reminded me of a scene from a “Silicon Valley” script, except that it was real life. Either way, this gibberish needs to fade to black. Forever. They are counter-culture to everything that is startup.

#4 Pitches and public speaking skills can only go up

The variety of pitches was astounding: an online organic produce delivery service to an “omni-channel retail kiosk” (which no one understood), to a movie service catering to Southeast Asians. The content and presentations were of varying talent, but the majority were poorly constructed. This is no surprise since entrepreneurs tend to be heads-down creating products, not working on their communication skills (though that excuse can’t be used for companies with VC Big Shots on their advisory boards). The importance of a good pitch cannot be understated—it is the holy grail to getting funded. My take is that a pitch should possess three “C” qualities: be clear, concise, and compelling (in a three-minute package). Weaving a great and logically flowing story into your presentation is absolutely critical.

#5 Testosterone-All; Estrogen-0 

This comes as no surprise but every single pitch and panel member was male. The women’s roles at the event? The “helpers”—the hostess, those setting up computers, coordinating food and drinks and the like. I was encouraged to see that females of all ages made up about 25% of the audience. Of course, male dominance is a systemic issue in tech (and many other industries) that will not be resolved in this space. The good news is that there is much more awareness of this issue, now something just has to be done about it…

#6 There are good takeaways 

Feedback from the investors was clearly valuable to the entrepreneurs and I got some good advice too: 1) The best way to get to the core greatness and uniqueness of your product or service is to ask your customers—they will give you the read-back of your true value; 2) Leverage the social capital that you have, aka tech influencers, who are usually happy to help, but ask directly for what you want and make it something interesting and easy to do; 3) Know what success means upfront in your business, and if you “pivot,” do so before you are on the spiral to going down in flames; 4) The story of why you started your company is the core of your greatness and at the root of the problems you solve. It’s what drives and motivates you, and what makes you unique. It’s the DNA of your future success.

Will I go to another pitchfest? Maybe, maybe not. But it will be awfully cool if one of those companies I saw is the Next Big Thing.

Image: Marketoonist, Tom Fishburne

Confessions of a Marketer: 3 Buying Sins We Commit

airline-word-cloud-540x368No matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make, there are common things we tend to do when it comes to buying products. Marketing 101 tells us that these decisions are based on logical touchpoints like price, familiarity, ease of use, brand experiences, and the like. But then you add the emotional flavoring packet of how we feel when we use it, reaction to the colors, influence from friends, to name a few. The melding of logic and emotions is so interwoven and subconscious during the buying process that it’s nearly impossible to pull the two apart. Our brains on brands can be quite the conundrum, and, frankly sometimes make no sense. Take three diametrically opposed buying behaviors that many of us engage in regularly, whether at the Big Box retailer, the local store, or that online site.

Buying from brands we hate: For me (and millions of others), Comcast is No. 1 when it comes to brand loathing. Unsurprisingly it’s honored on the 10 most hated companies in America list. The majority of the top 10 are popular and profitable, including McDonald’s and Wal-Mart. Ironic or par for the course? For me, I’m a hater of Comcast’s horrible customer service, erratic connection, and dominance on an industry, yet I still pay that hefty “Triple Play” bill each month. Admittedly, part of the reason is that I am too lazy to find other resources for my internet, cable, and landline (yep—I still got one), many of which are equally unappetizing. In a nutshell, I stay with crappy Comcast because it’s the path of least resistance, and shamefully that trumps everything else sometimes.

Supporting small brands that went corporate: One of my favorite “natural” products is Burt Bee’s Coconut Foot Creme. I love that undisturbed-coconut-y aroma. For years I thought my purchase was going to a small, organic company in some cute Vermont town, which made me love it even more. It turns out I’ve been supporting Clorox’s corporate coffers since 2007—that’s quite a different smell. But Kashi, Honest Tea, and many other “small” brands have also gone big. Large corporations will chase the organic, sustainable money on its unstoppable upward trajectory—they obviously want a cut of that action. The recent purchase of Amy’s Organic to General Mills reminded me of the grieving process I went through with Burt’s Bees: denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance. I tend to get stuck at the bargaining stage: I don’t like the fact that my David is now a Goliath, but I am willing to forgo my values for their awesome macaroni and cheese. Sadly, case closed.

Going with brands that are against our values: This can be the most difficult one. Even if you’re not a scrapbooker or DIY type, you’ve probably heard of the recent Hobby Lobby’s Supreme Court case: It fought and won against covering birth control pills for employees under ObamaCare, claiming it went against their values. If Michaels and Hobby Lobby were equal distance from my house it would be an easy decision for me. But plenty of corporations we do business with every day espouse opinions and use profits from our purchases for causes that we mildly or vehemently oppose. For instance, Dominos Pizza and Carl’s Jr. are big anti-abortion supporters and Expedia is a supporter of a climate change denier organization. But do these factors weigh in when we want to buy something? Yes…and no. Knowing the political and cultural leanings of corporations means we might think about switching, but the emphasis on “might”. We’re guilty of sometimes squashing our moral values for a product or service we love, need or is easier to get.

Ultimately, the only person we answer to when we buy something that goes against our core is that face in the mirror— how do we feel ethically, morally, and financially about our purchasing decisions? Whatever “games” we have to play to make that occur, we will do it if motivated enough, because in the end, we want what we want. And isn’t that what consumerism is all about?

5 Ways to Avoid Your Content Jumping the Shark

fozI think we can all agree that August exposed the dark side of content overload capitalizing on horrific events, specifically the many news-jacking incidents of the Robin Williams death story to tell a branding lessons, public relations exercises,  or a host of other bad coverage decisions. Content surpassed the tipping point on good taste long before Robin Williams’ death, but it’s a sad reminder that we’d all benefit from sticking to some basic rules.

With no formal “content code of conduct” in this digital wild west, I believe it benefits everyone to create articles and posts that avoid blatant self-interest or all-out sensationalism, otherwise, readers will look away out of boredom, indifference, or outright disgust. Sure, quality varies in any profession—whether it’s graphic design or accounting or anything else—but content has gotten pretty sloppy these days. And with branded content increasingly contributing to the bottom-line for companies and publishers, there’s even more potential for a downward spiral.

As someone once said: “Just because you have a pen, it doesn’t mean you should write.” So, if you’re going to produce content, consider these five ideas to help toggle that fine line.

No Knee-Jerk News-jacking: In the race to produce the first or competing angle on a trending topic, the temptation to get in on the action because everyone else is can be a fool’s game. If you have nothing new to add or merely seems an opportune moment to spout expertise or make a vague connection, you’re probably better off keeping quiet. Sitting on a trending topic before hitting those keystrokes allows time for ideas to marinate, the opportunity to leverage real-time media insight, and ultimately produce more thoughtful content if you choose to do so.

Write for Your Audience, Not SEO: Despite my marketing chops, I’m still a former journalist so I generally leave the keyword ninja moves to the pros. That said, I gladly encourage and promote clicks to my articles, but not at the price of quality. I care that three (alliterated) criteria are met when I write: It should educate, enlighten, or entertain (or the miracle of all three). If an article doesn’t do any of these, it’s back to the drawing board. In the end, as the saying goes, “the best SEO is good content.” Amen to that.

Consider the “So What?” Factor: By now we can all agree thousands of posts abound on blogging best practices, do’s and don’ts of emails, or writing the killer LinkedIn profile—you get the idea. Though they all bring their own unique value to the table, most have been done before. The question to ask is: What differentiates my content from everything else out there? I know personally how many times I get all excited to write about a topic only to find out it’s already been done ad nauseam. But I am happy to say I have many ideas rattling around in my brain that will one day make their singular debut, so I move on.

Be Human: Digital content readers tend to be an intelligent, curious bunch and can usually be found hunting the web for good stuff—they have no patience or time for self-promotion or articles with the substance of popcorn. The smarter, more relatable your articles are, the more they will spark a conversation and as a bonus, your personality will also shine through. I’ve also found it serves no purpose to “play Switzerland” by staying neutral on a topic. Taking a stand is what separates you from the sheep and gets your audience engaged and responsive, whether they agree with you or not.

Stoke the Passion: When you write about a topic that piques your own interest and curiosity, that enthusiasm will come out organically. I create lots of content on marketing and technology, but I never write about something that doesn’t interest me. It might result in less-than-stellar readership sometimes, but I’ve learned something myself (and for the small group of readers interested in controversial billboards of 2013, you’re welcome).

The endless tidal wave of content these days is only going up (and up), so don’t be tempted to jump the shark, no matter how high the SEO results might be.

Five Ways Freelancers Can Work LinkedIn

freelanceIf you’re a consultant and slapping your profile up and connecting with folks is the extent of existing on LinkedIn, it’s time to up your game on the No. 1 B2B networking site. With so much other social media competing for attention, if you have to pick a few to be active on, you’d be hard-pressed not to include LinkedIn. As a free user, you won’t get all the bells and whistles of a premium account, but there are still plenty of ways to help your freelancing career without huge time or effort, but the payoff can be big. I know personally—I’ve been using it for free since 2003 to mine potential clients, expand my network, and help position my business, to name a few perks. As a colleague of mine says: “Your network is your net worth,” and there is a treasure trove on LinkedIn if you use it right.

#1 Post Status Updates: One of the most important things you can do as a business is show your expertise in an industry or topic. This does two things: keeps your name on your network’s collective mind and provides connections with helpful information (that’s where smart content curation and knowing your audience comes in). The status update should be something timely, interesting, and relevant (and if entertaining all the better). Give your update extra attention with an introduction including a spin on the topic, a teaser, or an interesting factoid from the article (and make sure there is an image). Use the “Public” setting as this will cast the widest net to both your network and their connections, which means more exposure and opportunities.

(Side note/rant: LinkedIn’s new publishing feature is available to some users, ergo my posting here, but there is no GA date. The red notification that appears when someone publishes a post has become irksome to many, including myself, and there are no plans to change this, as far as I know. The notification tends to cause a Pavlovian response and should be reserved for profile views, connection requests, and other items revolving around my presence on LinkedIn, not those that are “pushed” to me. An idea could be that published post notifications appear on the news feed and the person can make a decision to click.)

Tip: Click on this new drill-down on the home page side navigation called “Who’s Viewed Your Updates” that displays stats for your updates; who is viewing them, liking, and sharing them. This is great data to see what is most popular and interesting to your network, ideas  for new updates (and the dud topics not to post for the future).

. updates

#2 Jobs. Jobs. Jobs:  Did someone mention jobs? Isn’t it the life of a freelancer to always be on the look out for your next gig? I’m always surprised to find that consultants don’t use or even know about LinkedIn’s “Job” feature because they thought it was only for full-time positions—au contraire! You can search by industry, keywords, company, freelance, part-time, or a combination of criteria. The bonus is that you will see which 1st degree connections are connected to the company who can potentially make introductions, or 2nd degree ones that you can hit up through 1st degree connections. I’ve done both and this has proven successful in getting work. Recently, LinkedIn   added jobs “you might be interested in” to your news feed as well as providing similar jobs to a job posting on the side navigation, which can also be useful.

Tip: Save frequent search requirements and request email notifications for new results, but know that LinkedIn’s email system is erratic so you won’t always get the emails and will need to check manually. Conversely, the job search function can be clunky, like showing any job with the word “part” in it even if you’ve entered in the search box “part-time”.

#3 Who’s Viewed Your Profile: This is LinkedIn’s most popular feature, and it’s no surprise why. The person checking you out could be a potential new client, a competitor sizing you up, or an industry partner looking for resources (or—boo hiss—an anonymous user, which you can’t see as a free user). Check to see if there are profiles you should be researching or following up with. Though free subscriptions entitle you to look at only the last five viewers, there is still plenty of data to view.

Tip: A new embedded feature provides number of hits and demographics of viewers by industry, location, and other data. This can be helpful for fine-tuning your profile, researching potential clients, and understanding what activities (or lack thereof) may have triggered changes to views. Less useful but good for data junkies is a click to the right with “How you rank for profile views” to learn your rank within all your connections and the increase or decrease of views in the past month. It would be more productive if it compared and ranked consultants with similar titles.

linkedin#4 Join Groups (and Post Content) Joining and contributing to industry groups is a great way to increase your name and expertise recognition. One of the best leads I ever got on LinkedIn was an editor who saw an article I posted in a group and  contacted me to write for his publication. Because posting can be a time suck with multiple groups, consider posting the same discussion on various groups (but be sure it’s targeted and introduced the right way). Don’t be afraid to provide thoughtful, concise comments on select discussions where you have knowledge or opinions, as this can potentially expand your network and get your brand out there too.

Tip: If posting the same content to groups in “bulk”, go through status updates on your home page and delete multiple ones so you don’t look like an overposter. Two is fine, 10 is not. 

#5 Invitation to Connect: Obvious? Yes. Always used wisely? No. You’d be surprised how many times you meet potential clients, business partners or others in various pockets of your life that could be valuable in your network…but do nothing about it. Think beyond the business cards you’ve collected and the people in your life slotted into the “work” category. Don’t downplay friends, vendors, and others that could be useful to your career, and you to theirs. (and don’t forget about people you share groups with-this is a perfectly legit and good approach—your invite will contain info about which groups you are both members of).

Tip: Always personalize your invitation: where you met, some context for inviting them. Simply clicking “Invitation to connect” is just lazy. It’s easy to type a few words and it makes a big difference to the person viewing it.

These are some of the ways I’ve had LinkedIn work for me. What are your favorite way to use LinkedIn as a freelancer? What’s been successful for you?