Tagweb strategy

“How to become a freelance web strategist?”

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my moo card…asked my reader Chris in an email:

To impose a question, is it financially lucrative to be a freelance web strategist? I am considering such a path for myself, and if you have a chance to explain your successes and failures to me…

Well, Chris, thanks for the question – a good one, too! So let’s dig right into this.

One, to get that out of the way: Yes, I feel very fortunate to make a good living from this line of work. (If you had told me this a few years ago, I would have thought you were crazy. Today, for me this is reality, and I can hardly believe how lucky I am to be paid for doing the stuff I love to do!) So the financial aspects shouldn’t stop you. (As money can move into, and out of, an industry quickly, though, this shouldn’t be your driving motivation – do what you feel passionate about, the rest will follow.)

That said, what I do is freelance work, so there’s no regular, reliable paycheck. There is always a certain amount of uncertainty about the future, even while business is good. If this is something you don’t feel comfortable with, freelancing is not for you. (Not a shame either, but it is something you should think about first.)

Two, apart from that, it’s pretty much intuitive: Do good work, be creative, and: blog, blog, blog. You will be consulting with your clients on topics like web communication, social media and blogging, so you need to know your tools & feel comfortable with them. From my experience, this is not only very rewarding because you meet so many cool folks, it’s also you best way of advertising your services. Do leave your traces online, be it via your blog address, via Twitter or any other means you feel comfortable with. Personally, I’m convinced that this kind of word of mouth is ultimately more important than all business cards, flashy websites and conferences combined. (Although attending the industry get-togethers certainly doesn’t hurt. But again, I go less for the networking than for meeting interesting folks to learn from.)

Three: Ask, ask, ask. As the old Twitter saying goes, it’s not who’s listening to you, but who you listen to. For example, you should listen very well to Jeremiah Owyang and Chris Brogan, both of whose blogs I read religiously, because they’re always insightful and inspiring. There’s plenty of others to discover, of course!

That’s just a brief rundown. Other than that, experiment & find your niche. How about connecting via Twitter to begin with? All the best, Chris, for your endeavors!

The LEGO Lesson: Embrace Your Fans

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In Forrester‘s Josh Bernoff / Charlene Li blog, Josh relates this story by Jake McKee (formerly Lego) of how Lego changed by engaging with AFOLs (Adult Fans Of Lego, sometimes referred to as ALE: Adult Lego Enthusiasts). There’s a lot to learn in this story – particularly for companies with a top-down corporate culture. Here’s how Lego learned how to embrace their fans:

Jake began to evangelize the idea that “Lego is a creative medium” — the AFOL’s central idea. First step: don’t respect the hierarchy. Second: use tenacity and get air cover (he got that from Tormod Askildsen, who’s in our book). Third: get the company to come down from its ivory tower. He proved that the fans new more about Lego than the people at the company. He invited fans in to look at a set of new products (Lego trains) — which they rejected. Result: the designers redesigned the sets based on the fans’ feedback. Fourth: there are no secrets. Jake released information about bricks for the fans, which created an internal uproar — until he proved that the “secret” wasn’t much of a secret. And Jake repeats (and I agree) — skip the NDA. NDAs inhibit conversation. (For the record, I respect NDAs, but I find them frustrating.) Lawyers want to reduce risk to zero — but that is not what business is about. Fifth: don’t hold your breath. Change takes time. “A big part of my job was to get people out of the office to visit” events — see what’s happening out there. Jake tells an incredible story of how after exposing some marketing people to a Lego event, he had to explain why people engage in hobbies. Sixth: the answers are not within the company. AFOLs had built their own tools where they shared everything from the contents of Lego sets to photo sharing. “There were so many tools, I didn’t have to build anything.” Lesson here: don’t build tools if your community already has them. Summation: “Success by 1000 paper cuts.” Don’t start with a huge program, build small piece by small piece. “Your company has a fan club” — go for it.

This is some great advice right there, and as simple as it sounds: Go for it!

Oh, and here’s some AFOLs in action:

Twitter vs Blogs, Revisited

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Twitter LogoAfter a week of Barcamp and Web2Expo Berlin, I have to take a look back to what I’ve been writing about the relation between Twitter and blogs. (If you like to read up on the discussion, you can find my posts on Twitter here, the most relevant posts here being probably on inattentive trust, my reaction to Chris Brogan’s Newsbies Guide To Twitter, and the post on Microblogging vs the Good Old Blog.)

So what has changed since, do I blog less when I twitter more? Definitively. But the Berlin Web2Expo week with its Barcamp, Web2Expo, warmup and afterparties and the general expo frenzy made me think that maybe it’s not just a quantitative thing, i.e. it’s not just a matter of available time. Rather, blogging and twittering seem different tools for different communication goals.

In my blog I sort of try to develop ideas, or look more thoroughly at stuff. There’s feedback, but it’s more of an output thing, and it helps building some sort of archive, or knowledge base. Twitter, on the other hand, is where I go for shoutouts, but also for advice. My Twitter network (shall we call them contacts, friends, co-tweets?) gives instant feedback, it’s the folks I ask because they know more than I do. There’s a lot more input at Twitter. (Add me here.)

On a side note, there’s also a very different etiquette on Twitter, and it’s far from solid yet: Your Twitter stream is often very personal. Does that mean: No work here? Or all work, since that’s a big part of our lives? We’ll see, it’s an area we’re still experimenting with.

But what really got me thinking is how much easier it is to meet your online folks face-to-face if you know them through Twitter (or similar services, for that matter). Although we hadn’t interacted otherwise before, dotdean, nero and I quickly set up a loose cooperation between the inofficial (but recognized) Web2Expo group tumblelog BerlinBlase; I met the faces behind the screen handles kosmar, paulinepauline, Igor and jkleske; just to name a few. If you “know” each other through Twitter, you just have the simplest conversation starter, and already have a basic understand of how those people think.

(Although it does sound kind of funny, or sad, to hear yourself say “Haven’t we met on Twitter?” But that’s how it goes with new media.)

As Twitter is a classic Web 2.0 service, it gets “better the more people use” it. It’s not the kind of application that really shows its brilliance on the first glimpse, but over time. When I look for information on certain topics, my Twitter network is the first place I go.

But maybe we need a terminology for Twitter-related social interaction that doesn’t sound quite as nerdy.

Do You Know How to Use the Web to Innovate?

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The internet isn’t just a means to send email and look up information. It’s a powerful tool for all kinds of networked communication. But it’s also a great tool to innovate – in your product, your business, or your organization.

Lately, I’ve had a number of chats with my buddies and collaborators Max Senges and Thomas Praus about innovation, how to create a culture of innovation, and how to use the web to foster it. While more and more organizations start their own blogs (which is great), not too many really use social media to realize their full potentials.

One of the main problems, from a company point-of-view, is of course: How can you measure the success of social media programs? Usually, your average company’s management can only go for a social media program if you can put a clear value to said program, right? (Yes, that’s even true for your not-so-average company, although it may depend.) As web strategist Jeremiah Oywang points out: “This is the year of ROI, measurement, and experimentation.”

Luckily, the consulting & social media community has put a lot of thought into the issue of evaluation and social media measurement. For a good intro, I’d recommend those readings:

But while (at least in the the social media sphere) the tools and strategies to measure success are emerging, so far there’s not enough companies that really know about those tools, and thus don’t have a chance to use them successfully. The idea of giving up control and openly sharing your information with customers can be very scary. But social media and other channels between organization and their stakeholders (users, fans and angry customers alike) offer organizations the chance to really learn what matters to their clients, what bothers them, what drives them crazy. That’s exactly the kind of information that an expensive survey, sent out to 10.000 customers, will not get you. It’s also exactly the kind of information that’s absolutely priceless: You get better feedback, often even great ideas on what to improve, and how. Which brings us right back to our starting point:

Not enough organizations use the web efficiently to foster innovation.

While we were chatting away and brainstormed a little about how to deploy web-based strategies and tools that allow to foster innovation, we came to the conclusion that this is a field to which a lot of companies don’t even have access to. Sure, you’ll find all kinds of stuff on the web. But between web 2.0 startups (who know this kind of stuff themselves) and major global firms (who might hire consultants to inform them), there’s a majority of small and medium-sized enterprises who just don’t have the time and resources to do it themselves. (Not to mention all the NGOs and non-profits.)

It’s time to offer some advice in that regard, and to make it easier to access the relevant information. We haven’t yet decided how exactly to go about it. But as a first step, I’ll try to collect more relevant information here on this weblog. As a second step, the three of us are thinking about offering some kind of consulting on the issues of web-based innovation, social media, and better access to new markets. As of now, it’s still very much up in the air how exactly this will look. (As freelancers, but working closely together, following the example of Stowe Boyd & The Messengers; Or rather as a proper company? Who knows.)

But first, I’d like to hear your story: Does your company know how to use the web to innovate? What strategies and tools have you deployed, what worked, and what didn’t? Are you a social media evangelist in your organization? What obstacles did you have to overcome, and how did you? Share your experiences, so others can learn from you!

Full disclosure: I’ve known both Max and Thomas for a long time and we’ve collaborated in a number of projects. Among other things, the three of us have co-written a book about Second Life (buy in Spanish, download for free in English) for Universitat Oberta de Catalunya. Thomas and I have also worked together at face2net for a while.)

Update: For easier access to the collected information, you can find it in the (new) category web-based innovation.