The science of posting on LinkedIn

I’ve been writing on the internet since the golden days of GeoCities (I was in Area51 Neighborhood if you must know and have any idea what any of those words mean.). That’s where I cut my teeth on HTML, hacking together image maps and making egregious use of the <marquee> tag.

It’s also where I learned not to trust someone else’s platform with my content. Every week GeoCities would try something new to monetize what people were doing on the platform, usually making something worse for the people who hosted sites there (bandwidth limits, more ads, etc).  They never had a business plan and over time, as they alienated their users trying to find one, they didn’t have a business.

And all that writing and HTML, as well as the community built around it was lost to the ether.  Most of it was terrible, but it was ours.

Since then, I’ve always run my own site. I post there and only put up links to that content on social media and other sites. That’s been the conventional wisdom in web marketing for several years – own/control the platform, build your audience on the platform, profit.

But the web is changing, search engines are losing ground to social media in regard to how people find content. It’s really weird, but the world is shifting back toward the community models of the early web. It got too loud and confusing, so we’re pulling back to our tribes and filtering out the noise.

Earlier this year, I decided to try something new – posting original content to LinkedIn and making my own site secondary. After 21 weeks, here are the results and some lessons learned.

LinkedIn should not replace your blog

While social platforms like LinkedIn and Medium might strengthen your brand among your existing audience and give a small increase in follower growth, you are beholden to their content algorithms, which, especially in the case of LinkedIn, suck.

Here’s what 21 weeks of article views for LinkedIn looks like.

On an exponential scale, view growth is effectively flat, even as my number of followers increased by about 25% over the same period. Based on what I’ve noticed of how LinkedIn’s tech shows content to users, I’m pretty sure if my follower count hadn’t increased, view growth would have actually been negative.

I think the biggest issue is probably over-exposure, especially given the quick upward trend early on, followed by a plateau. It’s also possible I started writing crappier headlines and less interesting posts over time. I’m entirely open to that possibility.

LinkedIn seems to rank on-platform content higher than off-platform content when choosing what to show in user feeds. Theoretically, this is a good thing, but think about the people you see in your feed, the ones that are constantly posting things. They start to fade into the background over time. The more they post, the less attention you pay to them.

Content targeting is a hard problem to solve, which is why LinkedIn, Facebook, Medium and others are all dedicating resources to it.

Cross posting

Even though I led with LinkedIn, I always posted to my own site after the fact. Old-school SEO people would probably scream at me for doing this, since search engines downgrade duplicate content to punish content scraping sites. But the web is changing, more content is being shared across multiple social platforms and the search engines know this.

Based on the minimal amount of SEO analysis I did for each post, it appears that Google is smart enough to know the difference between a social site crosspost and a content farm.

I’ve since flipped the process to post on my site first and then LinkedIn and there doesn’t appear to be any difference in traffic/ranking to either.

Going forward

I’m going to keep experimenting and see what else I can learn. I still believe that your own site is where your core content should be, but playing with variants of that content on different platforms opens up a lot of opportunities to experiment and engage different groups of people.

Search is becoming less relevant. Social is becoming the way people find your stuff. Experiment, learn, adapt.

Image Credit: Mars P.

I cannot write about technology today

I write to think. Usually, when I sit down to write, I don’t have a clear idea of what I’m going to write about and I often end up at the opposite end of the conclusion of the one I thought I had. That’s the secret to writing, kids. You sit down and do it and let it change you.

To paraphrase Doctor Who, I’m a big believer in that idea that if you never change your mind, you will die stupid. So I try to nurture the constant doubt and uncertainty that are baked into my personality.

But today when I sat down, I was certain. I knew I couldn’t write about technology or vendors or trade shows or any of that. Not today. Today I need to write about fear.

Memories of being small and frightened

My Friday night Twitter feed was a river of pain, fear, chaos, and unfiltered reaction as the attacks in Paris unfolded.

Reading the news, I thought of the Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, something I remember vividly from my childhood – of being scared and feeling like the world was so big and hostile and confusing. I thought of sitting slack-jawed in front of the TV on 9/11 and let all the feelings of fear and anger roll through me once again. I will remember Paris the same way.

I have sat in the bombing memorial in downtown OKC and forced myself to absorb the energy there – to feel it all and observe and process it. The weight of that emotion almost feels bearable until I notice one of the small chairs, the children’s chairs, in my peripheral vision and fall apart.

Earlier this summer I was in Budapest, just a few weeks before the massive wave of Syrian refugees began entering the country. While there, my wife and I visited the Shoes on the Danube Bank, where Hungarian Jews were once ordered to take off their shoes before being murdered and tossed into the river. It is by no means a “fun” place to visit, but it is an important experience.

I force myself to go to to these places because they are uncomfortable, because they make me remember. They make me angry and scared. They force me to process and understand the world and what I feel about it.

Fear is the root of hate

The men who attacked the people of Paris where, at their core, frightened. They were scared of a world they didn’t understand, of not being able to control their lives, of being lost and alone. They found understanding and camaraderie in anger and mutual hate, and the illusion of control through violence and terror. They let their fear drive them to do terrible things.

Every time something like the Paris attack happens, we tighten our locks a little tighter and close our hearts a little more. We are (justifiably) scared and and the fear mongers magnify that terror a thousand fold.

But what many people miss is that the fear they feel is the very same emotion that acted as a seed of hate in the terrorists they are reacting to. When we inhabit that fear and let it take over our lives, when we let it fuel distrust of our neighbors and fill our hearts with a longing for vengeance and retribution – when we do that we are following exactly the same path as the people who have caused us harm.

When terror strikes, it immediately becomes a battle of us vs. them, but if we’re honest, there is no “them”.

There is only “us” and each of us has the latent capacity to do terrible things if we follow our fears to their inevitable conclusions. Our reaction should not be “look what they’ve done”, but “look what we humans have done” and “how can we address our inner monsters and not keep repeating the same mistakes?”

The world is amazing and wonderful

My wife and I are expecting a baby boy early in the new year. In just a couple of months we are going to be responsible for the care, feeding, and shaping of another human. Honestly, it’s terrifying.

I’m overwhelmed with questions about “What am I gonna teach this little monkey about the world?” and “How can I teach him to be good and kind?”

The other night at childbirth class, one of the other attendees told the group that his biggest fear was the prospect of “raising a child in an increasingly dangerous and morally bankrupt world.” It took all I had not to react to him even though I understood the emotions that were driving him.

  1. Why have a kid if you really believe that?
  2. Eff you, dude.

Agreed, the world can be a dangerous and scary place (It always has been and I’m of the belief that it’s less dangerous and scary than it’s ever been.), but it’s also wonderful, filled with amazing people and places.

I’m going to teach my son that it’s OK to be scared and that it’s OK to be angry – that it’s OK to feel whatever he feels as long as he understand what those emotions are doing to him and where they might lead him if he throws himself completely over to them.

I refuse to bring him up thinking that it’s OK to hate others because of how they look or where they’re from – fearful of who they might be. Or that the world is binary – that there is only good or evil rather than a spectrum of unintended consequences.

I’m going to teach him that everyone is afraid and what matters is what we do in spite of it – that the best of us comes to bear when we have compassion and empathy for the fear we see in others.

I’ll write about technology again next week, but this is what I had to write about today.

Image credit: Loretta Prencipe

How to kick IT chaos in the face

I hate chaos.

I can function within it, but have found there’s usually no reason to. Most chaos is artificially created, the product of Bad Decisions, General Ignorance, and Unchained Whim. Even when chaos is real, it’s rarely a good idea to work inside it. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of chaos in most businesses and IT departments.

I’ve found that some people thrive in chaos. They create their own chaos just for fun or to set themselves up as the hero of the day. They will start a wildfire just so they can be seen putting it out later on. These people are called idiots.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a robot who needs everything to be a particular way or who has file folders and a planner full of notes. (No offense, robots.) I just think we all have better ways to spend our time than flailing around trying to put fires out.

Discovery

Years ago, I worked at Gateway Computers (Cow boxes, ya’ll.) in one of their manufacturing facilities. Not long after I started, I came across a weird whiteboard out on the factory floor. It was covered in brightly colored index cards and seemed out of place among all the cardboard boxes and conveyors.

“What’s that?”

“It’s our kanban.”

“What’s a kanban?”

It was years before I figured out I could apply kanban to IT work, but when I did, it changed my world.

What’s kanban?

Kanban was born in Japan as a lean manufacturing concept. It’s a way to speed up production and limit the amount of inventory you store onsite. But kanban can be used for almost any type of work. I’ve used it successfully in IT, writing, and in managing personal to-dos. If you’re familiar with agile development, most of this should be recognizable to you.

The basic idea is that instead of just taking work as it’s shoved at you (chaos), you “pull” work from a backlog and you only work on a small number of things at once (your work-in-progress or WIP).

It’s critical to note here that this is not a first-in first-out system. You only pull items into your WIP that you can immediately work on. If you’re waiting on something or otherwise don’t have what you need, that work item needs to either stay in the backlog or get tossed to a holding pen until it’s ready to be pulled back into WIP.

I’ve alternated between software, mental, and physical kanban for several years, but the physical version is by far my favorite. Having something tangible represent the work you’ve accomplished in a week contributes greatly to mental health.

Personally, I use a five column setup (you really only need three columns, but I like having “today” and “holding pen” buckets) and limit myself to 3 WIP items. Your mileage may vary. I clear out my “Done” column at the start of every week. This is what a week of my kanban looks like:

And here’s a guide to get started: http://www.slideshare.net/ourfounder/personal-kanban-101

Just by doing this, you’ve built in a system of priority. It also enables you to discover bottlenecks in your processes. Why is a new hire ticket coming to you first if you need five other people to do something before you can take action?

Fewer bottlenecks means work gets done faster. Focusing your work effort also means work gets done faster (and better).  And acknowledging that the context-switching inherent in “multitasking” is poisonous to efficiency will make you a force to be reckoned with.

Kanban is a simple, but powerful concept and it goes hand in hand with DevOps and continuous improvement. If you’re trying to make the transition from traditional Dev and Ops to DevOps, I’d actually recommend starting with kanban before you even look at the technical or process side of things.  It may be something that starts at an individual level and then scales out to the entire team.

It can be a valuable lens to view your work through and help focus on the areas of your work that need the most attention and effort. It is a chaos killer and a way to bring sanity to your world. Try it for a month and let me know how it works out.

Image credit: Vee

The superpower of saying “no”

Saying “no” is hard. Few people like telling someone else that they can’t have something. At best, the other person is going to be disappointed. They might get angry. They may break down in tears. They may yell, or they may just frown.

“I’m sorry, I can’t help you.”

Ugh, just thinking about it makes me feel guilty.

Because saying “no” feels bad, we end up saying “yes” to a lot of stupid things and committing ourselves to a laundry list of regret.

“Yes, I’ll have that to you on Thursday (Even though I have 1000 other things I really need to be doing instead.).”

“Yes, feel free to call me next week (Even though I have zero interest in talking to you about the thing you are trying to sell me.).”

“Yes, we can do that (Even though what you just asked for is the worst idea anyone has ever had. Seriously, it’s like you climbed a mountain of stupid to win the Olympics of Dumb Ideas.).”

We all want others to like us. Most of us really do want to help and sometimes workplace culture dictates that “yes” is the only valid option. (Exit the building and set it on fire on the way out if that’s the kind of place you work.)

We associate saying “yes” with being friendly, helpful, kind, and a dozen other things we want to be and then we kill ourselves trying to make good on all the things we’ve committed to.

Of course there are those people who say “yes’ to everything with no intention of actually following through. I hope those people get eaten by bears.

Rarely do we think of our “yeses” as what they really are – eels (to borrow a metaphor from John Roderick). Eels aren’t bad, just like squirrels aren’t bad, they’re just eels. But if you let enough of them latch onto you, you’re gonna have some issues.

Too many eels will drink you dry and you can’t help anyone when there’s no blood left in your body.

Being selective about what you say “yes’ to isn’t being uncharitable or unkind – it’s being realistic. You (and in a work setting, your team) have limited time, attention, and resources. There is no reservoir of infinite “yeses” you can fall back on. Every commitment you make today is one you won’t be able to make or deliver on in the future.

That’s fine. It isn’t good or bad. It just is. Acknowledging it and folding that awareness into your daily operations doesn’t make you unkind. Sometimes, telling someone “no” is the kindest thing you can do.

“If we give you this thing, we can’t give you the other thing you asked for.”

There’s also always the factor of unseen or unacknowledged consequences.

“If I do what you’ve asked me to do, this other thing will literally explode and your house will burn down. Also, your dog will die and I’ll get a back injury.”

I’ve come to know a small number of people who are really good at telling others “no”, and I respect the heck out of them for it.

I try every day to get better at it. I’m pretty good at the “no”-part, less so at the “but here’s a similar, better idea that you also came up with and I am now repeating it back to you so that you know it was really your idea and not mine and oh my god is there a way to make you happy and also not do the terrible thing you asked me to do? “-part.

Image credit: sboneham