Followers Aren’t The Goal

Someone on Quora asked, How do I get more followers on Twitter? This is my answer:

You’re asking the wrong question. Instead of asking, “How do I get more followers on Twitter?” try asking, “How can I bring the most value to the most people, using Twitter as a medium?”

Seriously, amassing a large following on any platform really boils down to providing a lot of value to a lot of people.

Don’t get too caught up in increasing your follower count, though. Some people have millions of followers who don’t care what they have to say, while others have less than a thousand followers who hang on their every word. I’m a big believer in focusing on depth over width. It only takes one follower—one human connection—to change the course of your life.

Beginner Running Tips

Someone on Quora asked, What do I need to know before I start running on the treadmill for the first time? This is my answer:

A few very quick tips:

  1. Where you run is up to you, but I’m personally not a treadmill fan. I much prefer running outside or on the track at the gym. It’s more interesting. But if a treadmill is your only option, go for it!
  2. Buy a good pair of running shoes. Do some research, try on a few different pairs, and get some that work well for you. Depending on how frequently you run, you’ll probably want to replace them every year or so.
  3. Commit. The first time you run is going to suck. But it will get easier. Commit to working up to a 5k, for instance, and don’t give up early. You’ll be so proud of yourself when you reach that first big milestone, and you’ll want to keep going.
  4. Start slow. Start with a mix of walking and running so you don’t overextend yourself. Running injuries aren’t much fun. Don’t try to cover too much distance at first—long distances require months of training.
  5. Use an app like Nike+ Running. Nike+ Running is a free app that tracks your runs (regardless of whether you run inside or outside) and offers various training programs to help you reach your goals. The beauty of these programs is that they tell you exactly what to do each day, and as long as you follow what it says, you’re golden. I recommend their Beginner 5k program if you’re just getting started. It will start you with a mix of walks and runs, slowly acclimating your body until you can do a whole 3.11-mile race. I use Nike+ for all of my runs.
  6. Get started! Don’t put it off… Go enjoy your first run!

How To Create Your Own Custom URL Shortener For Free

In the age of social media, link shortening services have become ubiquitous. But many brands have grown tired of sharing the same old Bit.ly and TinyURL links, instead opting to use their own branded shortlinks.

Branded shortlinks not only take up less space—they also look neater and more professional.

Bit.ly and other platforms offer this as a service, but they typically charge a pretty penny to do so. In this post, we’ll take a look at how you can start operating your own branded URL shortener absolutely free.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Get A Short Domain

The first step to setting up a custom URL shortener, of course, is to get your hands on a short domain name.

Remember: it needs to be short, or it defeats the purpose—but it should also reflect your brand. Check out these examples:

  • VentureBreak uses vbreak.co
  • The New York Times uses nyti.ms
  • TechCrunch uses tcrn.ch
  • The Next Web uses tnw.to

If you get stuck, I highly recommend using Domainr to help you find the perfect domain hack.

Install Your Own URL Shortener (YOURLS)

Once you’ve got yourself a nice, short domain name, you’ll want to install YOURLS (Your Own URL Shortener). It’s a nifty set of PHP scripts that do everything you want your URL shortener to do. Just follow these steps:

  1. Download and unzip the YOURLS installation package here.
  2. Copy user/config-sample.php to user/config.php.
  3. Open user/config.php in a text editor and fill in the required information.
  4. Upload the files to the root folder of your new domain.
  5. Create a new database, making sure to match the credentials you added to user/config.php.
  6. At this point, you should be able to see the admin panel at yourdomain.com/admin.

Note: some web hosts offer a one-click install option for YOURLS, so you may want to use that method instead.

Congrats! You’ve installed YOURLS on your server, and your URL shortener is ready to go.

Using Your URL Shortener

So, you’ve got your shiny new URL shortener up and running—but what can you do with it?

Of course you can generate short links manually at yourdomain.com/admin at any time, but YOURLS can do a lot more.

Using The API

If you’re savvy and so-inclined, you can utilize the YOURLS API to automate some off-site tasks. Check out the documentation here, and grab your unique token from yourdomain.com/admin/tools.php.

WordPress Integration

If you’re publishing with WordPress, you may want to give the Better YOURLS plugin a try. It automatically generates a shortlink for each new published post, and it replaces the default wp_shortlink shortlinks with YOURLS links, making it easy to use them on your site.

A number of social sharing plugins also offer built-in support for YOURLS. If you’re using a plugin that supports wp_shortlink but not YOURLS, you can solve that problem with the Better YOURLS plugin as well.

YOURLS Bookmarklets

YOURLS offers some handy bookmarklets that make it easy to generate shortlinks and share them. Head over to yourdomain.com/admin/tools.php and drag them to your toolbar—then just click them when you need them.

If you have any questions, problems, or suggestions, feel free to share them in the comments below!

The Beauty Of Twitter Search

Even with so many other options out there, Twitter is still my favorite social platform. It’s the town square of social media—everything is public, so you can drop in and out of conversations that are already happening (without being creepy).

One of my favorite Twitter features is the search function, which I’ve used to start hundreds of interesting conversations and meet tons of cool people. You can search for tweets and discussions about anything you’re interested in and chime in—making new connections along the way.

I’m interested in startups, so one Twitter search I have saved is this:

startup OR startups -http

The syntax here is interesting. Using that simple string, I can return tweets containing either “startup” or “startups” (hence the “OR”) that do not contain links (hence the “-http”). So when I open this search as a column in TweetDeck, it returns a pure stream of conversational tweets about startups—no links to articles or other websites—so there are countless opportunities to engage and meet new people.

I also use it to find people who have shared VB content on Twitter, because I like getting to know them as well.

If you’re not using Twitter search, you should definitely give it a try.

The Key Difference That Makes One Startup Successful While Thousands Of Others Fail

It’s no secret that the vast majority of startups fail. But what’s so special about the precious few that succeed? What makes them gain so much traction and scale so quickly while other entrepreneurs just spin their wheels and ultimately fail?

On our Submit Your Startup page on VentureBreak, one of our tips for getting noticed is to “be a purple cow.” This links to Seth Godin’s book, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable—a must-read for entrepreneurs.

I could stop here and just tell you to read the book, but a few people have asked for clarification, so I’d like to explain why I think it’s so important to “be a purple cow.”

I get hundreds of emails a week from entrepreneurs who want me to write about their startups. After a few years of doing what I do, you start to see the same things over and over again. Things that were once interesting start to become background noise because everyone is doing it.

The startups that I actually find interesting enough to write about are those that a) do something radically different than anything I’ve seen before, or b) tell an interesting story that I’ve never heard before. Bonus points if they do both.

The same thought process takes place regardless of whether you’re looking for press, investors, or customers.

Seth Godin articulates it quite well:

When my family and I were driving through France a few years ago, we were enchanted by the hundreds of storybook cows grazing on picturesque pastures right next to the highway. For dozens of kilometers, we all gazed out the window, marveling about how beautiful everything was.

Then within twenty minutes, we started ignoring the cows. The new cows were just like the old cows, and what once was amazing was now common. Worse than common. It was boring.

Cows, after you’ve seen them for a while, are boring. They may be perfect cows, attractive cows, cows with great personalities, cows lit by beautiful light, but they’re still boring.

A Purple Cow, though. Now that would be interesting. (For a while.)

You can apply any number of analogies to this concept, but the point is that you have to be different. Don’t be just another cow grazing on the pasture. Be a purple cow.

You can get a copy of Purple Cow by Seth Godin here.

How You Can Use Reddit To Drive Massive Traffic To Your Site

Over the years, I’ve found Reddit to be one of the most powerful traffic-driving forces on the Web. Its slogan is “the front page of the internet,” and for many people it is just that.

Reddit has referred millions of people to my content. It consistently falls into my top ten referring sites, and occasionally it hits #1. But using Reddit to drive massive traffic isn’t as straightforward as you’d probably like—so in this guide, we’ll run through everything you need to know about tapping into the world’s largest social news site.

Understanding Reddit

First and foremost, you need to have an understanding of what Reddit is and how it works. In the simplest of terms, Reddit is:

an entertainment, social networking and news website where registered community members can submit content, such as text posts or direct links.

(Thanks, Wikipedia.)

Reddit is divided into different sections and communities, known as “subreddits.” Each subreddit typically revolves around a single topic or area of interest. Here are a few examples of popular subreddits:

  • /r/funny — funny images and ridiculous memes
  • /r/todayilearned — random bits of information that redditors learned today
  • /r/worldnews — news from around the world
  • /r/frugal — a place for redditors interested in saving money

I could list many more, but redditlist.com already has a great collection of the top 5,000 subreddits here.

Users of a given subreddit can share relevant links or text posts with the community, which can then be “upvoted” or “downvoted” by others.

 

The more upvotes a post gets, the more visible it becomes to other users.

As you can see in the screenshot above, Reddit users do not typically use their real names. While you do need an account to post, the whole community is very much anonymous.

What NOT To Do On Reddit

Most marketers use the same shitty promotional technique on every platform: post link after link after link and hope people click. That’s a bad strategy on Facebook and Twitter, and it’s not even an option on Reddit.

If there’s one thing redditors hate, it’s blatant self-promotion. If you’re constantly posting links to your own content, you may find yourself shadowbanned—which is a ban that allows you to continue submitting content but hides it from everyone except you, so you don’t even know you’ve been banned. You don’t want that to happen, so your self-promotional posts should be few and far between (more on this later).

The /r/ShadowBan subreddit has a full list of things you shouldn’t do on Reddit to avoid being shadowbanned.

Create Reddit-Worthy Content

Content is king.

That phrase has become such a cliché, but it’s true. If your content isn’t amazing, it’s not good enough. When someone clicks through to your site from Reddit, they expect it to be worth their time. If it’s not, they’ll close your site and keep scrolling, or worse—downvote it.

So put some serious time and effort into making your content the best it can be. If you do this consistently, Reddit will (eventually) become a source of traffic without you having to do anything, because your readers will start sharing your content on the subreddits they frequent. I get a constant stream of traffic from Reddit to articles I’ve never shared there myself. Keep that in mind.

It’s not hard to optimize your content for Reddit—you just have to do some research. Pick an appropriate subreddit and spend some time looking at the most popular threads. What kinds of things get a lot of upvotes? What are people saying in the comments? What can you create that those people will love?

Let’s say, for example, that I write a blog about aviation. If I want to create some Reddit-friendly content, I’ll start looking for related subreddits on redditlist.com:

Now I’ll look into those, determine how active they are, and try to figure out what types of content perform well on each of them.

On /r/aviation, for instance, people seem to love photos and videos of different aircraft in action. With that in mind, one potential blog post could be a compilation of photos and/or videos of a particular jet. The subreddit also contains quite a few news stories, so covering the latest aviation news might be a good idea as well.

Another great source of inspiration is a tool called BuzzSumo. You enter a topic, and it shows you the most shared content on the Web related to that topic. Take a look:

Again, aviation is just an example. You can substitute any niche and get an idea of what content gets shared by the people you want to reach, and then you can use that data to create something epic.

Using Reddit

Once you’ve created a killer piece of content that you just know Reddit will love, your first impulse will be to pull up a subreddit and share it. Don’t do that yet.

Remember what I said earlier: redditors hate shameless self-promotion, and they can smell it from a mile away. You will be called out by other users and possibly even banned.

The key to using Reddit as a marketer is to not be a marketer. I’ll say it again: you don’t want to be a marketer; you want to be a redditor. Create an account and start using the platform just like everyone else. Share interesting content (not your own) from a variety of sources, upvote other users’ posts, and participate in conversations. This will help you get to know your niche a little bit better, and you may even make some friends along the way.

After you’ve done this for a while, you’ll have a solid reputation and some karma under your belt. Then and only then is it appropriate to submit a link to your own content.

And once you’ve shared your own content, you’ll want to lay off the self-promotion again for a while. I would encourage you to limit your own content to 10 percent or less of your submissions. That means for every link to your own site, you’ll need to post at least nine links to other sites.

Because you’re actually being a member of the community, the risk of a shadowban is significantly lower, and your links won’t appear spammy (especially if they provide VALUE).

You can also ask redditor friends and your audience to share your content. Hardcore fans are always happy to help.

Put This Into Action

Reddit has been a big source of traffic for me, and you can make it work for you as well. Just remember these key points:

  1. Create awesome content.
  2. Reddit hates marketers, so don’t be a marketer. Be a redditor.
  3. Provide value to the community, and you’ll get value in return.

If you have any questions or other suggestions to add, feel free to leave them in the comments below!

Why Your Business Needs Social Media

I’m always surprised to come across businesses that aren’t using social media to their advantage. It’s the most effective marketing medium available to us today, and the entry costs are low, yet so many businesses—both large and small—choose to leave a ton of money on the table.

If you haven’t started yet, now is the time. While you sit back and watch, your competitors are taking action.

But because I realize not everyone is convinced, let’s talk about why your business should be on social media…

Your customers are on social media.

Once upon a time, outdoor advertising was a great use of any marketing budget. If you bought billboard space alongside a busy highway, you had a guaranteed captive audience including every passenger of every car that passed your ad. But today, those passengers’ eyes are elsewhere.

Next time you’re out in public, count the number of people you see staring at a smartphone or other mobile device. Everyone’s attention is focused on a screen, and if you can’t get your message on that screen, you won’t be noticed.

When business owners claim their target market doesn’t use social media, I laugh. Facebook has 1.32 billion monthly active users as of June 30. If your customers don’t fall into that group, you should probably reconsider your business.

But what’s the ROI?!

Some folks, particularly execs at large corporations, refuse to embrace social media without knowing the ROI (return on investment) beforehand.

Here’s the thing. I don’t know what the ROI is. And that’s okay.

Why? Because social media is the only platform that people hold to this standard. What’s the ROI for a TV commercial? What’s the ROI for having your face on the cover of a magazine? What was the ROI for a billboard ad ten years ago?

It’s hard to tell. But we know it’s something.

Good business in 2014 is relationship-based, and the best way to build relationships with your clientele is through social media. Skipping out on social is far more of a risk than jumping in.

Podcasting On A Budget

Podcasting has become a pretty serious medium for sharing information. It’s starting to pick up the way blogging did seven or eight years ago.

In the old days of media, you had to be either rich or backed by rich people if you wanted to start broadcasting. Today it’s possible for anyone to start a podcast and produce high quality audio with an initial investment of less than $100.

Of course you can pour more money into it—I know several podcasters who have put $30,000 or more into their home recording studios. But for entry-level folks, it’s not necessary.

My recording setup for VentureBreak Weekly, for example, consists of two computers (one for Skype, one for recording), an Audio Technica ATR 2100 microphone, and a Behringer Xenyx 802 mixer. There are a couple of accessories thrown in to make life easier, but that’s the studio in a nutshell.

I spent less than $200 on my recording equipment (excluding the two computers, of course), and it sounds great.

Anyone can start a podcast today. For the first time ever, the main focus of recording has shifted from technology to content. And that’s a good thing.