2017 has been the worst year of my life without question, and there have been some depressingly strong competitors for that title. And I hope I’m never able to revise that.
Despite my bellyaching, I have a lot to be grateful for and am grateful for all that I have. “Have” not just meaning material possessions, which ebb and flow through life for many people, but health, companionship, support, love, and many items that aren’t physical. Although some may embody a physical form, like my dog Annie, who has now made it to age 16, unbelievably.
As much as I have to be grateful for, I’d like to be grateful for more. And I don’t think one’s circumstances and self-improvement happen by chance. To the contrary; I’m always trying to be better, and our circumstances are a result of our decisions, for good OR bad. And optimization’s my thing. In fact, when times are bad like they’ve been at times I feel like my life becomes a series of platitudes and inspirational “Hang in There, Baby” posters.
But it works, because for the most part, those Tony Robbinsesque strategies really do change your perception. And to change your circumstances, changes obviously must be made. Sometimes drastic and often uncomfortable.
To prove it, here are ten things I’m going to work on in 2018 that are hard to do, but I believe pay dividends:
Mastering my sleep
Asking for help
Knowing when to shut up
Minding my own business
Mastering my thoughts
Some of these will come easier than others but if I focus on all of them, 2018 should be brighter. I’m posting them here to remind myself, lest I forget and for accountability’s sake.
I recently got into a discussion on Twitter with Joost DeValk, the creator of one the most downloaded WordPress plugins ever, WordPress SEO by Yoast. It’s an awesome plugin and he’s been very successful in marketing it over the years. Like many people that are household names in WordPress, and not unlike WP itself, he was working on the right thing at the right time. I like Joost, and am not bashing him personally whatsoever, and I’m not even stating a cult is a bad thing, necessarily. To each their own. But he, and others, don’t seem ready to face facts and accept reality. Possibly due to pride, or some other reason such as relinquishing individuality and uniqueness. I’m no psychiatrist and don’t claim to be. But they are in serious denial if they claim WP isn’t a cult.
He spent the weekend at WordCamp USA, 2017 which was in nearby Nashville, TN this year. He hauled himself all the way over from Norway or Sweden or which ever nordic country he hails from. On his own dime, of course. WordCamps are weekend meetings of WordPress “fans” who gather to talk WP, attend a string of lectures, and hand out swag and drink a lot of beer together. It’s also primarily used to recruit and retain WordPress cult members. WordPress meetups are basically the same thing, and are held monthly all over the world. WordCamps are held annually, and are bigger deals, with “stars” of the WordPress world. My first WordCamp included Pippin Williamson who also is well-known in the “WordPress world.” I’ve attended quite a few WordCamps. Some valuable, some quite a waste of time for my level of experience. But I do enjoy helping others learn the ins and outs of the program and scene. It’s easy for someone who’s worked on it for years, like me, but can be intimidating for newcomers.
A situation in which people admire and care about something or someone very much or too much.
There’s usually a religious aspect connected to it, perhaps like Scientology, but there doesn’t have to be. And it’s usually held together by some dominant, often charismatic individual. Such as the recently passed Charles Manson, for his little cult back in 1960’s California. Or the Branch Davidians, whose members and their children met an ugly ending thanks to Bill Clinton and Janet Reno. The association of such men gives the term “cult” negative overtones. But it’s not necessarily a group of evil, crazy people. It’s a group of people/community that is simply obsessed with something to a rather unhealthy point, basically. That point is the source of the debate, I suppose.
WordPress, which I’ve been involved in for around 8 years now, completely fits the definition. When I mentioned that it was a cult, Joost’s reaction was that he resented the comment. My tweet was a response to a Tweet of his exclaiming “Ask not what WordPress can do for you, but what you can do for WordPress.” For no particular reason except a knee-jerk disagreement. In fact, his very next comment, which was his defense, was that he gives 20% of his earnings, no small sum to be sure, every year to WordPress because he believes in the product and community, proving my point exactly.
I’m not in the business of convincing self-deniers to change their views, but I dare anyone to provide a reason WordPress isn’t a cult. I’m ready to debate that stance quite easily. And I have an open mind; I can be convinced otherwise if given compelling enough reasons to the contrary. But I can’t think of any. If you know of any, by all means leave them in the comments section.
It relies heavily, almost exclusively, on the efforts, time and resources of people to sustain it, for free to the foundation. Donations always accepted, of course. It’s a billion-dollar plus business to be sure, so it’s not like the non-profit is in any more need than the NFL for funds. Matt Mullenweg, one of the developers who began WordPress 14 years ago along with another man, Mike Little, who never ever is mentioned or really credited for some reason, is the relatively reclusive and softspoken CEO who appears at WordCamps and is treated like a celebrity. The “leader” if you will, who hapily sits on many Silicon Valley boards for his extensive business acumen. I don’t support his managerial tactics much, which I’ve expressed many times. That’s not sour grapes, and has no influence on this essay, however, I assure you. I believe I’m entitled to that opinion, and as an MBA and experienced businessman, have somewhat of a credible background in that area. I’ve conversed with Matt when once applying for a job at Automattic, the self-named offshoot business of WordPress along with several others such as Audrey Capital, all quite profitable due to the association with WordPress. Whether they would be so successful without that association is anyone’s easy guess. Incidentally, Matt explained the reason he wasn’t interested in having me join his company was due to not being involved enough with open-source. I hadn’t donated enough of my time and resources and paid my dues, in other words, even though I was highly qualified if not over-qualified for the position. No big deal.
But the people/developers that get wrapped up in WordPress get REALLY wrapped up in it. Tattoos of the logo on themselves, expensive treks across the US and even abroad to attend weekend WordCamps, etc… It becomes their lives. The unhealthy obsession earlier described.
WordPress, being open-source, is the real key to it’s success. Open source is the invitation to pour a lot of your life into sustaining it, along with thousands of others toiling away at keyboards around the world. At no charge to anyone but the donors themselves.
WordPress’ popularity is being in the right place at the right time, in my opinion. Same with a lot of internet businesses and businesspeople. I’m also willing to debate that statement at any time, and have a long list of resons to back the sentiment.
Come to a WordCamp, leave a believer
I recognized the fact it’s a cult several years in and noticed the very cultish characteristics that WordPress and its community has, and largely removed myself. I personally don’t like being that attached to something in that manner, as it almost represents an addiction. I still use the product and keep up with the development of it closely though for business reasons.
But contributing to core and hanging out in the forums to answer people’s questions a la WP customer service, is something I personally don’t have the time or desire to do. Mention that fact to hardcore WordPressers, and you’ll get a quick tsk-tsk.
Automattic, the company I mentioned that “runs” WordPress used to brag that it only employed around 100 people for a billion dollar-plus business. That is literally unheard of in the legitimate business world. That was also before Matt went on a hiring and M&A binge, scooping up some of the best individual devs and 3rd party companies around before competition hired them, which is what rich companies with no real organic growth strategies do, such as WordPress/Automattic. The lines between all the entities is legally definied, but quite blurred otherwise. The ability to acquire the best and most valuable because of all the charity it receives and, in fact, expects. If there was a WP commune in San Francisco, I assure you there would be a line of people around the block to move in. Many WP developers do, in fact, live a nomadic lifestyle. They’re young and unattached, except to WordPress.
In any case, facts are facts, and whether peole want to admit it or not, WordPress most definitely is a cult. That makes, and has donated to it, a lot of money by it’s generous contributors. If you’re interested in joining, attend a WordCamp and you’ll be happily recruited. You’ll be responsible for paying admission, lodging, travel, etc… however for the privledge of using the open-source code, however. Or you can sponsor a WordCamp, because sponsors are also required. There are many ways you can repay.
The 1980’s were interesting from a musical standpoint. The 80’s just left the glittery, blurry-eyed and afroed polyester cocaine-addled disco era behind, along with an impressive flareup of actual punk, as opposed to the punk poseurs of today that would no sooner hit someone over the head with a beer bottle than stick a needle in a vein. Not saying either of those things are worthwhile, but they were characteristic of the movement, which is now thoroughly sterilized for the mall and pop culture of later rebellious and angst-ridden youth. The folk and novelty music movement was appropriately put in its place as well and mostly sold on K-Tel records and 8-track tapes on the American-made television, which had yet to embrace MTV and cable box’s offerings, which began a noticeable decline in American culture in nearly every way. But that’s another post.
Which is largely what we get from musical history. If you hear music from the 1980s these days, it’s usually in a Wal-Mart or as a backdrop to some “retro” commercial and is one of a lot of crappy artifacts that somehow have persisted into the 2010’s and beyond. “Girls just want to have fun,” and that bubblegum crap sucked back then, and it still sucks. I don’t know who makes the decisions to keep those songs alive, but they must be a deaf associate of the devil himself. If you blindfoldedly threw a dart at a list of songs from the 80’s you’d likely hit better efforts. The world at large was celebrating Madonna, Bon Jovi, and hairspray, while I was sitting in a dark room in rural Virginia quietly listening to The Smiths and Jesus and Mary Chain.
I present here a Spotify playlist I’ve put together from the 1980’s that I feel represents a pretty unappealing but bubbly and poppy era much better. Better than the brown and rusty, dirty yellow 1970’s for sure, however. What persists in my mind from 1980’s pop culture, which I did my best to remove myself from in every way and did an excellent job of, was neon dayglo colors, jelly shoes, Wayfarers, raggedy girls fashions along with ultra-tight designer jeans, mesh shirts, acid washed denim and really gay and stupid men’s hairstyles. This of course was a time that calling your friends “gay” and “a retard” was a funny, largely innocent slight to them and not a reason for snowflakes to incite riots in the streets as it’s become today. Cultural shifts at work. The Meatmen wouldn’t even be able to record in a studio today, most likely.
What most people think of when they describe the 1980’s music scene is synth, electric drums, glam, and quick little pop hooks, with a visual that quickly sold. The 1980’s were the end of “ugly” bands, with the advent of MTV. If you weren’t TV-friendly and didn’t have ultra-strong musical chops, or really strong connections in the business, you could forget it. Every song had a video to accompany it, and the video sold the song. Marketing took a stranglehold on music in the 1980’s and hasn’t let go since. It’s how people today like Russell Simmons can make so much money selling awful “music.” He’s a great marketer. In my opinion, MTV ruined the interesting, if not exciting, direction music was heading in, despite the company abandoning the video music format that made it so popular. Many, many great artists were left in the dust. Luckily the internet has leveled the playing field once again.
A lot of these songs weren’t part of my library back then although I thought they were commercially catchy and appreciated them on some level. Mostly their B-sides and more obscure songs from the artists, maybe. What I preferred never made it onto the radio, and I didn’t have the resources to compile a comprehensive library of the better music available. Few did, and that doesn’t just mean money. Accessibility was a real problem in the 1980’s before the internet. We quickly forget what it was like to procure Grateful Dead tickets on the morning they went on sale over the phone, or a cassette tape that wasn’t in the Billboard top 10 if you lived in a small town. CD’s weren’t even mainstream at the time, until the late 80’s. A good CD player in the early 80’s would set you back $1000, which is like a billion dollars in today’s money. And no respectable artist would sell out to a point they had the option to release their songs on a compact disc back then anyway. That was for the Debbie Gibsons of the world. That, of course, changed quickly.
Frankie Says Relax
I didn’t listen to many of these songs back in the 1980’s as I did with say, The Smiths or Let’s Active, but they are at least some of the better songs from the 80’s, which should be curated and kept on life support by someone. The way I procured music is unlike any way children will ever have to again in history, which was to order vinyl albums from NYC or LA out of hand-typed underground magazines I got from basically head shops and subculture establishments in college towns and big cities and record them to tapes in my dorm room. I still have my JVC tape player, incredibly.
I didn’t receive any radio stations worth mentioning in boarding school which was in the middle of a huge farm, and at home, in SC we didn’t have any good radio, and we only had two places to buy tapes and albums in my hometown anyway. And they sold whatever was playing on the radio, which was typically pop garbage and heavy metal for stoned teenagers that drove custom vans. I ordered tapes via mail order from Britain and bootlegged tapes. I also managed to have roommates and friends in boarding school with awesome musical taste who I could record from and did often. I still have those tapes floating around somewhere, with the Dead Milkmen and T.S.O.L. well-represented.
The metal scene, which should be mentioned, had some standouts, depending on your definition of “heavy metal.” Back then I didn’t care for any of it, except maybe early Van Halen(Diver Down), AC/DC(Back in Black) and bands with guitar gods at the lead, which was a prelude to my guitar obsession which has since permeated my life. This was around the time I began learning to play the guitar seriously. (I’m still working on it.) But I recognized the virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen and appreciated the simple riffs of Angus Young. Johnny Marr’s guitar work wasn’t lost on me, either.
Led Zeppelin, Rush, the Grateful Dead, Eric Clapton and a handful of other legendary bands were indeed awesome in their own right, and still are, but just didn’t appeal to my state of mind and demographic at the time, which is why I’m not talking about them much. But there was some good stuff here and there during the decade, and I did attend quite a few of their concerts during that time. The Rolling Stones, the Who and even Paul McCartney before becoming a knight put out some good work. And don’t forget Michael Jackson and the Quincy Jones and Motown empires. I’m coming mostly from an “alternative” background, however. And although I did own their albums, they weren’t played nearly like the bands mentioned here.
The journey of good, alternative music in the 1980’s went something like this:
College radio stations would play local bands that were on their way to becoming regionally and even nationally known and played at fraternity parties and campus parties that were regional. Even some well-to-do boarding schools landed some big names. My own high school had REM booked until the school feared it would draw undesirables from nearby Charlottesville/Univerity of Virginia and got another band at the last minute. Think The Replacements, Husker Du, Violent Femmes, B-52s, the White Animals, etc… College prep students would pick up on these groups and music from hanging out on colleges, as we were able to do with a great deal of relative independence, and have older siblings in college that were among the musically privvy. The prep school kids took that music home with them, and it filtered into local private schools, and from there into the “alternative” kids of public school several years later. I had almost graduated from high school in 1988 before the Violent Femmes or Psychedelic Furs hit my hometown’s alternative scene, for example, and that was mostly because of their songs appearing in John Hughes pop films, like Pretty in Pink.
We’ve finally reached a point in time that I fantasized about as an adolescent: when I can pull up any song I want at any time. That’s a luxury that only people from my generation and prior know exists. I recall well lying in bed as a teenager and imagining the future when something called YouTube and Spotify existed.
So time to check in with results since my last post. I’m doing pretty well, actually. I’m growing my Twitter base in a hockey stick fashion and getting a lot more eyeballs on my LinkedIn profile, Facebook pages and groups and my numbers on my marketing blog and here are starting an upward trend. The key is consistency. Finding a sweet spot as far as types of content that resonate with my audience and discovering what times of the day is best to send it out. My biggest challenge is having a toddler to watch after, which I cherish and comes as my top priority, so at that expense go my marketing efforts. I can’t stay consistent just yet because I have other priorities.
In addition to marketing that site, I’ve also burdened myself with hosting a Product Hunt Hackathon here in Louisville, and I’ll be building a product myself, which will be an audible desktop penpal setup, and down the line have it work with Alexa and iOS software. It’s for the blind or illiterate who would like to have a pen pal but would rather speak their message to their pen pal instead of writing it and mail it and wait. It’s just a side project to mess around with. I’ll have it hosted at penpals.fun. So I’m putting that on my plate along with looking for a full-time job and taking care of a 2-year-old, a 16-year-old dog and a cat. And sometimes, apparently, a very well-fed possum.
What’s the biggest benefit of this marketing effort is that I’m learning a TON of digital marketing tips and techniques and staying on top of the bleeding edge marketing stuff. Machine Learning and AI and VR marketing, for example. I’m able to stay on top of the latest marketing trends and automation tools and am trying out a bunch of them to see what works best for what type of work. A lot of what’s out there is the same version of a product, with small iterations changed and a different feature here and there. I’m finding a lot of money doesn’t need t be spent to access some pretty powerful tools, and for a usually reasonable fee, you can get your hands on some really powerful gear. Google is especially generous with their software.
So I’m still forging ahead, and making gains, which are humble but what’s to be expected in the embryonic stages of such an endeavor. I’ve done this enough to know that it takes time. Tha’s the biggest power the internet has: the effect of time.
If you’re in the marketing business, you surely are familiar with what the marketing landscape looks like online: it’s packed with tools, tips, articles, software, and “pros” offering advice and products to help you learn more about, boost and help you and companies with all types of marketing. Sounds great, right?
Problem is, there are a lot of different types of marketing. Inbound, content, SEO, SEM, digital, automation, branding, product, email, affiliate, and over a hundred more at least. And then subcategories of those. It gets to be messy fast, and marketers being marketers, many of them are in it to make a buck or two. Or a lot more. And the range of knowledge and experience and authenticity of those marketers that want to help you is all over the place. People with no marketing experience at all, who’ve gotten their “skills” from reading other people’s articles, to marketing professors who are into academic marketing, to legitimate digital marketers, to hobbyists, to…. You get the point. A lot of what you see online is about affiliate marketing, which personally I’d put near the bottom of the list of legitimacy, to more academic and B2B marketing/digital that incorporates a bundle of skills which includes SEO, content, SEM, display, and a pretty big marketing mix. That may or may not include developing one or more sales funnels that rely on inbound marketing using platforms like HubSpot and Salesforce. I’d place that somewhere near the top, alongside “academic” marketing, although academia is woefully outdated and out of touch with the realities of practical marketing in the modern world. It’s where much research and marketing studies are generated, alongside consulting firms that release complex case studies like McKinsey.
What you tend to learn in school is purely theoretical, with possibly a few case studies and maybe some real-world experience comprised of teamwork, working on an actual marketing problem that a business is willing to let students work on for free/experience. That’s typically found in graduate-level work at the better schools, and even then, it doesn’t teach you much of anything about real digital marketing whatsoever and what the skills and tools are you need to know to get a job doing it. You have to teach yourself or learn on the job, which is more and more unlikely that you’ll find an employer willing to pay to train you in 2017 when there are a lot of people that already are trained. My tenured professor wife knows nothing about business itself and wouldn’t know what she was even looking at if you showed her a Google Analytics or Infusionsoft dashboard, or anything about SEO at all, for example. It’s the same with law school; it doesn’t teach you lawyering or how to practice law, just the dry research and academic aspects. It’s also why we’re seeing people like Steve Wozniak and organizations/companies like Google funding and setting up schools and other training programs that simply leapfrog underperforming, overpriced colleges that aren’t preparing students for actual work whatsoever.
There’s also a wide range of quality when it comes to marketing programs in Universities as well. Top-tier schools, of course, will offer that in spades, but 80% of marketing degrees come from schools most people have never heard of, in accelerated 1-year programs that aren’t really worth much all. And even if they do offer a respectable opportunity to learn marketing, that’s not to say the students will take advantage of it. I cite my own experience of teaching marketing management at a local University to 35 students as an adjunct professor. The top students were motivated and walked out with some good tools and knowledge. The bottom never bothered to even learn the definition of marketing, even though I told them repeatedly if they only learned one thing in that class, the definition of marketing should be it. And the last question on my final exam was: “What is the definition of marketing?” Guess what? People still got it totally wrong.
So the point is, it’s like wading through an ocean of misinformation and an overabundance of barely-relevant information and tools and advice, much of which contradicts or is poorly-communicated to the point of being utterly confusing. I know this because I’ve spent the past 6+ years online plowing through it all on almost a daily basis. I also have an MBA with a concentration in marketing strategy. I’ve also taught marketing management at the University level, as I mentioned And if that wasn’t enough immersion, I’ve been married to a marketing professor who I traveled alongside with through her Ph.D. program and all which that life entailed. Marketing has been the world I’ve inhabited for nearly a decade. And I’m presently on the hunt for a digital marketing job now myself and am preparing myself for such a role so when I get one, which hopefully is soon, I can hit the ground running in every way.
What I’ve decided to do is create a website that will be the headquarters for a digital marketing hub, with a Facebook page and a Facebook group to supplement it, and grow a community around it for relevant discussion and ideas. It’ll take time to grow organically which I realize — I don’t plan on advertising to grow it or worry about monetizing it or anything, and I’ve built some decent sized communities online before for various concerns like web development and design, so I know what it takes and what to expect. And that’s fine; what that strategy eventually yields is high-quality and manageable, which are among the most important criteria.
Plus I think it’ll not only be fun but will serve as a great resource for my new digital marketing job. If I get the one that I really want and think I have a great shot at, it’ll be perfect. And it’ll be something rewarding I can share and work on as a highly productive side project as well.
So if you’re into digital marketing or any type of “legitimate” marketing, come take a look, join and participate! And let me know what you think; criticism and ideas are the driving force behind its growth and quality standards. There will be tools, tips, strategy, discussion and marketing resources galore.