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Building Community

Farewell Peaks, Hello Skyscrapers – My (Woefully Undramatic) Journey Northeast

By | Building Community, Events, Miscellany | 4 Comments

Different skies

If you’ve been paying any kind of attention to my Twitter feed (@courtneymackweb, but please don’t feel bad if you haven’t. Hardly anyone does), you may have picked up on the fact that I have relocated.

That’s right. The view out my window used to look like this:

Colorado

And now it looks like this:

A Chicago Skyline

(Uh…car window, that is. My office/home windows have never been quite so dramatic).

There is a long and convoluted explanation for my recent move from Mack Web’s homebase of Fort Collins, CO to the Windy City (that’s Chicago, just in case you didn’t know), but it’s actually not that interesting.

I know, I know. It seems like it should be, since it’s fraught with interpersonal dynamics, long-lost friends, miscommunication, and mosquito bites, but…in the end it boils down to this:

Courtney has itchy feet.

Courtney likes her job.

Courtney has trouble reconciling these things.

Until I was presented with a fantastic solution: keep my job and move away.

That Mack is a genius, I tell you.

An incredible journey (but only through space. My dreams of time travel are yet unrealized).

So, Mack offered me the opportunity to open what is, essentially, the first satellite office of Mack Web Solutions. (Or as I like to call it: Mack Web Chicago: An Army of One).

So I packed up all my belongings and drove the 16 hours from Fort Collins to Chicago. I was supposed to document the journey for you, possibly with a small garden gnome as companion, ala Amelie.

But, quite frankly, 16 hours of corn and wheat fields is frightfully dull with or without a garden gnome. (And, honestly, a little eerie).

So I didn’t.

Though I learned something very, very important:

Contrary to popular perception, Nebraska does end.

I never knew that before. I assumed it was like the island in Lost or a vortex in space and time, consuming all who pass through and depositing them at random points throughout history and leaving them to wend their way back home as they can.

But I made it out in the end. And without having lost a significant portion of my personal timeline.

(I know, ‘cuz I called my mom when I made it to Iowa, just to make sure I hadn’t pulled a Rip Van Winkle and lost a hundred years amongst the corn. I could actually hear her roll her eyes over the phone).

So I made it to Illinois safe and sound and prepared to set up shop as Mack Web’s first remote location.

We currently operate out of my best friend’s guest room, but that’s not really the relevant point here.

An imac in a borrowed room.

The current offices (and officers) of Mack Web Chicago.

A surprisingly natural progression

The point is that one of Mack Web Solutions’ central tennets is that you can build and foster communities online.

That it is possible to create and sustain productive and mutually-satisfactory relationships without sharing the same physical space.

That through the wide variety of digitial media now available, you can make friends, find partners and mentors, brainstorm and co-create with peers and colleagues, from whereever you happen to be.

(A message, incidentally, also preached by the suppliers of said digital media, but…we’re less self-interested than they are. And also funnier. And prettier. So you should listen to us, even if you ignore them).

Of course, occasional in-person follow-ups are helpful and we’ll be partaking in those, too.

We’ve preached this and we’ve practiced it with some fantastic folk external to our company.

Now we’re trying it out a little closer to home. (Or, really, farther from home, depending on how you want to look at it).

Proving the Theory!

See, doesn’t it sound better couched in terms of scientific inquiry than wanderlust?

And thus far, it’s working. (Not surprising. It was our theory after all).

It’s a little weird not being there to bug my co-workers in person, but I’ve found ways to retain my status as office nuisance via chat and copious, copious emails and Google Hangouts that get completely out of hand.

Pirate hats and facial hair, the imaginary escalators and carefully-mimed isododecahedrons (no, Nat, I will never, ever believe that was a cube): these are the stuff that great virtual meetings are made of.

A nuisance deferred

And of course, all those co-workers are eager to see me succeed, so that they too, can scatter to all ends of the globe and work digitally from, say, Paris or the Caribbean.

(No pressure, Courtney).

Wait…what was the point of all this again?

Right.

All of this was to say: Stop your weeping. Be not alarmed! I’m still here, though I am gone.

If you should notice that I no longer appear in pictures of Fort Collins, if you should hear references to my absence, if you should feel the slight chill ebbing off the office itself with the loss of my beaming smile and warm heart…

Don’t. Panic.

I’m not going anywhere.

(Uh…except to Chicago. I did go there. But, um…oh, you know what I mean).

So wish me luck and maybe, if you happen to be in town, I’ll see you around.

 

More Than You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About Building Online Communities

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | No Comments

So I’ve written just a little bit about how to build online communities.

It’s only because I’m so extremely passionate about it. And I’ve lived it. In the last year we’ve experienced first-hand the amazing benefits and opportunities that open up when you do the work to build your brand, your community, and your company.

What follows is a curated compilation of a community building series I’ve written on the Moz blog (along with a Mozinar and a slidedeck from a speaking gig). Certainly there will be more to unfold, but here’s all of the community building goodness I have to give (in one convenient place):

Building Community with Value

The first in the series, Building Community with Value, explains one of the most fundamental concepts to building a community around your business: the 80/20 rule. The gist of this ‘rule’ — no matter what your ratio ends up being — is that social media is at its best when it’s driven by valuable content (that’s not all about you). One of the most meaningful ways to build relationships, trust, and your community, is to share other people’s great stuff. The 80/20 has been a great accelerator in our community building efforts. Give it a shot and see how it works for you.


How to Identify an Online Community for Your Business

The best part about building an online community is that you don’t have to start from scratch. There are so many great communities, people, and companies online who would love to be part of other great communities. All you have to do is find them. If you’re working on building your community, How to Identify an Online Community for Your Business is a great place to start.


Attract Customers to Your Community with Content

This is one of my very favorite posts in this community building series. I remember when I was writing this post I was telling my husband Jon that I was frustrated because I wanted to explain the difference between self-promotional content and customer-focused content and I couldn’t find any effective examples. He sent me a couple of emails he had recently received from Patagonia. They were perfect.

If you want to Attract Customers to Your Community with Content, you’ve got to create two kinds: foundational and community building. Patagonia does an amazing job of this and it’s all detailed in this post.


How to Build an Online Community for Your Business

Lucky for me, we have an amazing designer at Mack Web and her name is Natalie. She’s responsible for creating the spectacular info-graphics that we use to explain how we build community. In this post, How to Build an Online Community for Your Business Nat provides the illustrated version of this step-by-step processes.

If you’ve got an hour or so, you can also listen/watch this one Mozinar style.


Think Differently: How to Accomplish Big Goals for Your Business

This is not a Moz post, but even better, it’s a slide deck from my first big industry speaking gig. When I was on that stage at SearchLove, I challenged the crowd to Think Differently: How to Accomplish Big Goals for Your Business. This deck represents the community building process that we developed and tested on ourselves and our clients. My talk walks through this entire process (from buy-in to reporting) so that you can emulate it for your business.


Meet Your Community Building Team

After I had been writing and speaking about building community for several months (and of course working with our clients), I started to receive a whole lot of requests for role support. Who do we hire to do the work? Do we need one person for every single role? How do we build an ideal team?

I wrote Meet Your Community Building Team on the Moz blog in an attempt to encourage as many companies as possible to un-silo their existing marketing department and effectively build their ideal community building teams.


The Fundamentals of Building and Managing Your Community

Essentially, this Moz post is the final entry in this community building series. The Fundamentals of Building and Managing Your Community breaks down the important elements of both building and managing your community.

Specifically, the post highlights one of the most effective concepts we’ve used in community building—the Goals not Tools pyramid. In essence, you want to make sure that no matter what you’re doing — whether it’s building community or working on other important facets of growing your company — you start from goals. Identify the big picture of what you’d like to accomplish before jumping into the tools that will get you there.


Bonus! Mack Web’s Free Guide to Building Online Communities

So that about does it (so far) on Moz posts and the community building series, but if you like what you’ve read so far, then you’re in for a real treat. Mack Web has been developing a free, step-by-step guide on building online communities. This guide, written in true Mack Web fashion, will come in the form of a handy-dandy PDF and will incorporate all of our community building wisdom in one pretty little package.

If you don’t want to miss out on all the fun, sign up here. It will be your early Christmas present.


What Else Would You Like to Know?

As the year continues to unfold, and we continue to develop, iterate, and collect data about building community, there will be a whole lot more to tell you. What is it that I haven’t covered that you’d like to hear? I’d love to get your feedback in the comments below.

 

The face behind Faces of Fort Collins – a local blogger introducing locals

By | Building Community | No Comments

In this day and age, it’s all about information…or easy access to information, I should say.

Humans are intensely curious creatures and people always want to know what is going on in the world around them and, for the team at Mack Web, Fort Collins is the place where the majority of our life happens. (Ya know, since we live and work in this awesome, micro-brewing, music loving, outdoor-enthusing, food-truck-bearing town.)

So when we learned about a new blog on the Scoop Network, Faces of Fort Collins, I had to investigate; I absolutely needed to know more. (I am already a big fan of Kristin Mastre and the work she has done with the blog network she built from scratch; now she is one driven lady.)

So learn more I did, people. I went straight to the source. And in a fun role reversal, the blogger behind the Faces of Fort Collins, Kara Thompson, got to be interviewee for once.

Faces of Fort Collins Blogger, Kara Thompson

Here’s what she had to say:

How did you get started blogging?
For the past several years, I’ve been a full-time mom. When I saw The Scoop Blog Network advertise for new bloggers on Facebook in January, I submitted a pitch and was asked to join the network. Faces of Fort Collins is my first experience as a blogger.

My writing background is varied, and my past professional positions include being a newspaper reporter, a writer and editor in Services Marketing at an Air Force base, Communications Director at a small private school, technical writer at a research center at a university, and editorial director and project manager at a marketing and advertising firm. In these positions, I always appreciated the opportunity to talk to individuals and learn their stories, which relates directly to my goals for “Faces Of Fort Collins.”

Where did the idea of Faces of Fort Collins come from?
In my background as a newspaper reporter and writer/editor of various marketing publications, my favorite part of the job was always talking with people and learning their stories. I was never really interested in blogging about my own life, because I’m a fairly private person. So I came up with the concept of “Faces” in order to tell the story of Fort Collins by talking to the people here; it’s the people that define a community and can make it truly great.

How long have you lived in Fort Collins?
My family moved here in February 2009. We’d moved around a lot with my husband’s Air Force career. We had both previously lived in Colorado Springs, which is where we met. When we had the chance to chose a place to live, we decided to come back to Colorado.

How do you find the people you want to interview/highlight?
Initially, I asked friends to recommend people in the community that they knew personally. I got a great response and I’m thankful to my friends for being so supportive. I’ve done some cold calling, like to the Mayor’s office and to the FCPD Chief’s office; everyone has been so gracious. And now, when I’m done interviewing someone that I’m profiling, I ask them if they have anyone they’d like to recommend.

Who has been your favorite interview thus far?
I’ve had the opportunity to talk to some really wonderful people, but I’m going to say my first interview was my favorite because that meant that “Faces of Fort Collins” was off and running. It was with Gunter and Nicolette Bischof from Philomusica European Music School; they had a really amazing story to tell.

What has been your biggest challenge so far?
Getting used to juggling the at-home work schedule with the full-time mom responsibilities.

What do you like most about your job?
Very simply, getting to meet a lot of great people in the community.

What do you think Faces of Fort Collins will add to our community?
Maybe it will encourage people to be more aware that everyone has an important story to tell. Everyone’s story is a part of Fort Collins and what makes this such a great place to live.

And…in case this interview wasn’t enough…I even had the chance to do a rapid fire interview with Kara via video. Check it out:

Hopefully you have a chance to check out Kara’s blog because in a week or two, a special someone you know (hint hint) will be featured. Also, if you have suggestions on who should be featured, connect with her on Facebook.

 

 

The Real Speakers of SearchLove Boston 2013

By | Building Community, Events | One Comment

Seated on the shoulders of giants

As we may have mentioned once or twice (a week), our very own Mack will be heading off to Boston in May to speak at Distilled’s SearchLove conference. We’re almost excruciatingly proud of her and ridiculously excited about the event.

As we’ve been preparing for Mack’s imminent and inevitable stardom, we’ve spent some time pondering the ranks she is soon to join. Some of the biggest names in our industry will be speaking at this conference and we took a little bit of time to bask in our awe and their reflected glory.

And then we realized how much time we spend thinking of them as giants and superheroes and how easy it is to forget the actual people behind the names.

As we’ve reflected on the journey our company has undertaken to get Mack to where she soon will be, we realized that all of our idols have gone on similar questions, fought their way through similar struggles, and come out victorious.

Oh, the humanity!

Which is why our homework for SearchLove this year was less about delving into the accomplishments and assorted accolades of the pantheon of speakers and more about celebrating the smart, human people whose drive and determination have earned them not just our hero worship, but our genuine respect.

Soppy, we know. But truth is truth.

So, with the cooperation of those same folks, we present to you this little look behind the curtain. We asked them each to answer two simple questions to give us some insight into the people they are. They were gracious enough to reply.

What follows is the web marketing equivalent of a glimpse of Bruce Wayne at his leisure, lounging around the manor in his jim-jams, eating PopTarts and playing MarioKart.

Speakers of SearchLove Boston 2013, we salute you in all your real, live person amazingness.

Thanks for sharing.

Mike Blumenthal

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
Besides cooking and eating, it would be biking or cross country skiing with my wife. We live 20 minutes from Allegany State Park and some of the best cross country skiing on the east coast. Both biking and skiing give me the sense of “cheating” nature by overcoming gravity. When the snow is good and the wax is just right, you can get a glide that feels like flying.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Having grown up in a dysfunctional family of the 50’s and 60’s I somehow had lost sight of a career dream and all I wanted was to be in a normal family. I am not sure that it helped when I learned though that no family is normal…

Check out Mike Blumenthal’s blog.

Will Critchlow

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
My world outside work is increasingly about family these days. I’ve known my wife since college. We got together right after college and got married in 2008. Our daughter was born in 2010 and our son last year.

In activity terms, though, my top non-work, non-family thing is playing basketball. I’ve played since I was 11. Our high school was unusual for the UK in having basketball as a big focus. We went to the national semi-finals twice. I played in college (to give you an idea of that standard, our very best players were bench or walk-on players for D1 schools in the US previously). Now I play for a team in London in the London Metropolitan Premier league (the top regional league below the national leagues). My basketball claim to fame is guarding Steve Bucknall who now plays in our league.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a kid, I wanted to be an inventor or an astronaut. I used to sketch all kinds of weird inventions – I remember a powered skateboard. We took my daughter to the London Science Museum for her 3rd birthday last week and she was transfixed by the space exhibit. She met a real-life female Russian cosmonaut and now wants to go into space too. Maybe we’ll get to go one day.

Learn more about Will Crichtlow, in his own words.

Annie Cushing


What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
My fave activity outside of work – aside from spending time with my family (duh) – is shoe shopping. Moar shooz!!!

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a doctor. Until I worked as a candy striper and saw how depressed people were in hospitals.

Find out more about Annie Cushing.

John Doherty

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
I have many activities that I enjoy outside of work, so it’s almost impossible to pick just one. My favorites all involve being outdoors, whether that’s riding my bike around Brooklyn, skiing, rock climbing, or camping.

Often I’m able to combine one of these with my other favorite pastime, which is travel. I’m fortunate to be able to travel a lot and can often do so for one of my activities. Recently I was in Colorado skiing, which was my first time skiing in the Rockies. Previous to that I had only skied on the east coast of the US and in Switzerland and France, where I used to live.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
As a middle schooler, and even into the first couple years of high school, I wanted to become a doctor. My focus was to be cardiology, so I was fascinated by the human heart and how it works. I remember dissecting animal hearts when I was young to find out how they worked (this was a perk of being homeschooled).

Once I got a bit further into my education, though, I realized that a) I hated science, and b) I would have to do at least 8-10 years more of school after undergrad to become a doctor. I decided it wasn’t for me and pursued writing instead. I’m glad I did!

Check out John Doherty’s blog.

Rand Fishkin

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
Actually, I have three (at least right now)

  1. Laying my head on Geraldine’s lap on our couch while watching AdventureTime
  2. Visiting the cornucopia of magical, hipster restaurants in Portland in preparation for our PDX office opening
  3. Heading to Ashland, OR (where we got married) and seeing a play in the OSF’s Elizabethan theatre

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Originally, a dog. Dogs are surprisingly awesome in a lot of ways, so I told my parents that was my goal. Then I found out that’s not how growing up works, so I switched to biology, with a specific focus on rainforest frogs. Imagine my dismay when I found out that rainforests are humid! (FYI – I hate heat+humidity). That’s probably what drove me to the marketing world. 🙂

Get to know Rand Fishkin a little bit better.

Mackenzie Fogelson

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
When I’m not working, I really love being outside. And with summer time right around the corner (my most favorite time of year), I’m looking forward to outdoor concerts, bar-b-ques, going to the pool, and spending time with friends.

Before we had kids, my husband Jon and I used to hike and mountain bike a lot during the summer. Now that we have a 2 1/2 and a 5 year old, we have been learning to adjust our expectations a little bit, but still enjoy all the things we love here in Colorado. We’re just starting to get the kids into hiking. We have one rule: no complaining. That goes for adults, too.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
When I was in the eighth grade, I got 100% on an anatomy test where we had to name all the bones in the body. I still remember coming home from school that day and telling my mom and dad that I was going to be a doctor. Seeing as I’m pretty bad at math, don’t have a knack for science, and am not so crazy about puke and blood, I’m glad I became an entrepreneur.

Get to know our own Mack Fogelson a little bit better.

Ross Hudgens

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
My favorite thing to do is hang out with my awesome girlfriend, Melissa. We’re normally going out to happy hours, enjoying the sun on a hike or a patio (we used to live in Seattle), or watching San Francisco-area sports teams (where I was raised).

As a close second I greatly enjoy Crossfit, which is somewhat of a cult these days. It’s a nice substitute in my life for competition where football used to be, which I played in college. Of course, that SEO stuff is tough too!

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a monster truck driver for a time. I used to watch Gravedigger and Bigfoot and think it was soooo cool. That affinity didn’t last for long, though, and was probably one of the most short lived “I want to be x when I grow up” in history.

Check out Ross Hudgens’ blog.

Dr. Pete Meyers

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
With a toddler and an infant, I’m afraid the honest answer is “sleep”, a rare and glorious luxury. Post-40, I find myself turning into a bit of a fitness buff. In 2012, I took on a misguided challenge to do 50,000 push-ups over the course of the year, and was amazed to find that the resolution not only outlived January, but I actually did it. That’s spawned a whole new world of dangerous obsessions. My ultimate goal – the one-hand-clapping push-up.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Green Lantern. I’m still working on that one.

Get to know Dr. Pete Meyers a little better.

Kate Morris

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
Crossfit. When I met my boyfriend almost three years ago, we talked about Crossfit on our first date. Our third date was him actually taking me to a Crossfit class. People in the class thought he was crazy for making it a date, but I think we are both a little insane. A few months later I started working out at a gym near me and been going for over 2 years now. We are not a standard Crossfit, we focus more on strength than most. I can deadlift 257 lbs and squat 220 lbs.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
A marine biologist. I had a serious love for marine life, and even though I was a bad swimmer (I was bad at anything physical as a kid), I really wanted to work with those animals. So I had the thought to join the Navy maybe (I am an Army brat) and go that way. Alas, I fell in love with business in college and stayed with marketing.

Learn more about Kate Morris.

Phil Nottingham

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
Recently I’ve been doing a lot of stage combat choreography (theatrical sword fighting), for an upcoming competition in Russia. It’s kind of like a mixture between a sport and a performance discipline and I really enjoy the mix of physical skill and creative flair required to get a fight looking good.

The stage combat community are also a fantastic bunch to hangout with, so all fitness gained through wielding a rapier is fairly quickly counteracted with several pints in the pub.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I’ve wanted to do everything at some point in time during my childhood. Like all boys between the ages of 4 and 8, I wanted to be a superhero.

Then I wanted to be a professional footballer until the age of about 10. I think I then went through a phase of wanting to be a historian, and then from about the age of 14 to 18 I was very serious about becoming an actor until I decided that directing was more fun.

Find out a little bit more about Phil Nottingham.

Rob Ousbey

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
My favorite thing? Tough. I could say that I enjoy hacking together MVPs of startup ideas. I could say that living in Seattle has been wonderful because I can go hiking on the coast, on a volcano or even in a rainforest.

I could also admit how much I love playing boardgames, and am now working on designing my own.

But honestly, all that’s changed in the last year, because my favorite thing now to is hang out with my wife and son. He’s just turned 1 year old, and it’s like we get to rediscover what the first years of our life were like, all over again.

Each day it’s more fun to hang out with him, since he keeps learning how to do & say more hilarious things.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
The first thing I ever wanted to be was a radio presenter, from when I was 3 years old. Then I wanted to be a magician, then in the circus, and then I wanted to be a pilot. Then I wanted to be a lawyer, then an engineer, and then a radio presenter again.

The only one I ever achieved was being a radio presenter, but I still enjoy doing the occasional magic trick when the mood is right.

Get to know a little bit more about Rob Ousbey.

Neil Patel

What is your favorite activity to do outside of work?
I love partying with my friends…I’m a big believer that you should work hard and play hard.

When you were a kid what did you want to be when you grew up?
Doctor.

Learn more about Neil Patel.

The curtain falls

And so we withdraw and leave Batman to his own amusements.

We’ve certainly enjoyed the little insights that these fantastic human beings were willing to share with us. (And we’re a bit saddened that the siren song of Search has deprived the world of so many potential doctors. And the occasional dog. Sad for the world, maybe, but happy for us).

We’re looking forward to the chance to spend some time when these phenomenal people and we hope to see you there, too. Let us know if you have any questions for them.

We can’t promise they’ll answer, but we can promise we’ll pass them along.

Also, as a point of interest…what’s your favorite not-work activity and what did you want to be when you grew up?

 

 

Content balance: sharing value vs. self-promotion

By | Building Community, Web Marketing | 2 Comments

I’ve been writing a lot about content lately because, among many other reasons, it’s one of the best ways to build online community, attract people to your brand, and become a leader in your industry.

Keep these three things in mind

There are three very important things to keep in mind about content:

  1. It should serve a purpose (and not just to rank desirably in Google).
  2. It should add value to your company, the industry, and your community.
  3. It should help you accomplish the goals that you have for your business.

Just recently I had the pleasure of discussing the significance of these points during a webinar that I gave for SEMPO:

More stuff about content you should read

Jonathon Colman has been particularly inspirational lately with resources like Why Our Content Sucks and his seriously Epic List of Content Marketing Resources. And, if you haven’t already seen it, I’d recommend checking out Doug Kessler’s deck on Crap. The Content Marketing Deluge. It’s phenomenal.

This stuff has contributed to many of the things that I’ve been writing about lately:

Attract customers to your community with content
This is a post, recently featured on SEOmoz, that explains the difference between foundational content (content that is directly self-promotional and meant to sell your product or service), and community building content (content that is meant to be more about what you know than what you do). It’s important that you build a balance between this content, ensure that it’s focused on your customer, and pack it full of value.

How we accomplished (big) goals with content & social media marketing (in just 10 months)
Meant to serve as an inspirational case study, this post describes the journey that Mack Web took in a 10 month period that led to some amazing accomplishments. All with the use of content and social media marketing (and a whole lot of hard work and passion).

The gist

The basic gist of all of this good stuff is:

  1. There is no secret formula to content. You’ve got to determine what you want to do with your business and develop a strategy that will help to accomplish those goals.
  2. None of this is about you. Always work to make your content about your customer.
  3. Work to build a better business. Don’t just create content because someone told you it would help you rank better in Google. Get inspired and passionate about your business and make that the reason for your efforts.

 

 

How we accomplished (big) goals with content & social media marketing (in just 10 months)

By | Building Community, Mack's Musings, Social Media, Web Marketing | 72 Comments

I printed this off of one of Rand Fishkin’s decks at the beginning of 2012. It’s the analytics from the Everywhereist’s site. It shows her journey over a span of two years. It’s been hanging in my office as a source of inspiration.

And now we have our own:

This is the lift in Mack Web’s traffic between April of 2012 (when we started using content and social media marketing for our company) and January of 2013 (when we started seeing some really big results). That’s just a 10 month period.

Sure, we’re in a web savvy industry. And yes, we are in fact marketers so some of this stuff may come more naturally to us. But we’re no different than many companies out there. We have limited resources (a team of 4). We have a small budget for this (ok, more like no budget). We have a whole lot of other things that do in fact take priority. But we still made the commitment and did the work.

And it’s paying off.

Both personally (in my career), and at Mack Web, we have experienced a tremendous number of victories in less than a year. But none of them have come without effort. We have pushed harder in the last 10 months than in the last 10 years, but these efforts have catapulted us to another level. And that’s pretty awesome.

What follows is a narrative of the steps we’ve taken, the things we’ve done, and the mindset we cultivated to move us forward. And we think what happened is a pretty marvelous case study of what can happen when you put in the effort, when you persist in the face of underwhelming results, and – most importantly – when you pursue your passion.

It started like this:

The turning point

We decided that if we were going to tell our clients that they had to do something, we had to do it too. Lead by example. If we test this stuff out on us, we would have first-hand knowledge of how it may work for our clients. Granted, it’s different for every company (especially those in industries that are not as savvy as ours) but we at least had to take the lead in paving the way.

We’re always telling our clients that in order to get results, you have to be committed to (and passionate about) doing the work. So, in April of 2012, we made ourselves a client and started doing stuff on a regular basis in order to work toward our goal.

We started experimenting on us.

We set a goal

Back in March of 2012, Mack Web set a (5 year) goal during a visioning retreat:

BE THE GO-TO EXPERT FOR WEB MARKETING IN THE WEST

We’re kind of an ambitious bunch and we knew this was a lofty goal, but we had 5 years to get there so we were dreaming big. At a higher level, this is how we were going to work toward getting there:

Brand Awareness
   
Constantly work on our brand awareness through our blog (posting one valuable piece each week), PR (getting out in our community), seeking speaking engagements, and attending conferences.

Mentorship

Find mentors in the industry. How did they get where they are now? Why are they doing what they’re doing? What wisdom do they have that could help us with where we’re going?

Idols

Explore other companies we aspire to be like (not just in the SEO industry). What is their culture like? What kinds of cool things do they do? Borrow those things and make them our own.

Knowledge

Invest time in on-going training & knowledge. Participate in online tutorials, watch webinars, read, engage in our community, and attend conferences.

We created a strategy

Our small (but mighty) team had our work cut out for us, but we were up for the challenge. We wrote a strategy and assigned the appropriate actionables. We determined that we were going to use SEO, social media, content, and email marketing as our tools.

In a nutshell, my initial responsibility was to be the face of Mack Web. I would go to conferences and also speak if we were asked.

As the CEO, I was also going to take on finding additional mentorship and making friends (and forging strategic partnerships) with other companies that we respected (both locally and globally) in the industry. 

The entire team was going to be responsible for content on the Mack Web blog and I was going to seek guest blogging opportunities to pull in more exposure from a larger and more diverse audience.

Lastly, we all were going to be held accountable for investing time in our individual and collective knowledge base (to benefit our clients and the company). We were going to commit time individually each day, and then also once a week for more in-depth training.

We knew we’d need to set aside the time to dedicate to getting these efforts done, so we created Innovation Friday. Every Friday, without fail, we would spend five hours on us. No client work. Just Mack Web.

We were on our way.

We learned stuff
(and reached out in real life)


In addition to setting goals and having a strategy, we invested a TON in knowledge. But more than that, we actually applied the stuff we were learning.

There are many ways to learn things these days: go to meetups, tradeshows, or conferences, watch webinars or videos, listen to podcasts, read blog posts and books. Hands down though, going to conferences has, by far, been the most powerful catalyst for us in the last 10 months.

I went to three conferences last year: In April, LinkLove, in July, MozCon, and then in November, SearchLove.

Mack Web’s growth in the last year has everything to do with these conferences for two very different and important reasons. First, I made new friends and strengthened existing relationships with people who have been a tremendous help and inspiration. (No matter how impressive your prowess in your industry, never ever underestimate the human element).

Just as important, I assimilated and applied what I had learned. Over a series of weeks, I would pass the wealth of knowledge on to the team and we would use Innovation Friday to watch videos, chat about key takeaways, and implement any necessary training. Then I would evaluate our systems, processes and approach, and we’d integrate the new information. 

Once I took the plunge and started going to these conferences, I found them — exhausting though they were —absolutely addictive. There was a huge rush of energy and an overwhelming tide of new and exciting and information. And when I realized the kind of momentum the company was getting from it, I knew I was hooked.

That conference attendance, paired with the voracious amount of reading we were doing, allowed us to change old routines and do what was best for the client, making all of the difference in our success.

I started working toward a focus
(in my guest blogging)

When I was at MozCon, I had breakfast with Jon Henshaw  and he gave me a piece of advice that has been a major contributor to all of the good fortune I’ve experienced in my own career in the last 10 months:

Find your focus. Decide what you want to be known for in the industry. 

Don’t just write blog posts, write with intention. Post less frequently if that’s what it takes. Instead, collect your ideas. When you do write, make those posts epic.



I’m telling you. This works.

It took me a while (5 months to be exact) to figure out my focus. It wasn’t until the end of the year, after I had gone to all three conferences that I finally realized what I wanted to be known for. By this time, Mack Web had pretty much made it through our internal transformation. There’s still more work to be done (there always is), but we had made it through the hardest part. This gave me a ton of clarity and I had finally figured out what I wanted to focus on. It was all of the stuff we were experimenting with on ourselves and doing for our clients. This is where I found my passion.

I scrapped an off-topic Moz post that I had spent more than 8 hours on over the holidays and began the year with Building Community with Value. It was a relief that I had finally found my groove.



In those 10 months, I wrote more than 25 posts. 7 of those for SEOmoz, 5 as a guest on select industry blogs, and the rest on the Mack Web blog. It’s really only been in the last 3 posts that I feel like I’m starting to gain traction. All because (at least it seems) I have an intention.

After I figured out what I wanted to focus on, I wrote a strategy for myself (ironic, I know). I know exactly what I’m going to blog about and when. I know whether to say yes or no (or soon) when somebody asks me to guest blog, or speak, or help them with a side project. I don’t have as much anxiety when I’m with my family or that nagging worry that I’m getting behind. It’s all mapped out for me (for the next few months at least). I have peace of mind.

We measured the results

You’ll be delighted to know that we are now super famous. I am an overnight success. 

Oh, and also a millionaire. Every night I go swimming in my vault of gold, like Scrooge McDuck.

And I didn’t even have to write a book.



Although it would be pretty exciting if all those things were true, here’s the more realistic (yet very awesome) truth of my individual and our collective efforts as a team:

We increased our traffic by 168%


In just 10 months, we’ve increased the traffic to our website by 168%. But more importantly, we are experiencing results doing something that we are very passionate about and that adds value to our company and our community.

Even though Mack Web has been around for 10 years, last year felt like our first. It was the first time in 10 years where I felt that not only were we really helping people build their businesses, we were also adding value to our own.

It really feels like we matter now. Like we’re making a difference. This may have been the hardest we’ve ever worked, but it’s also the most satisfaction we’ve ever experienced. This is what keeps us pushing ahead.

I’ve been asked to speak at some big conferences

I can hardly believe that I’m actually writing this, but this year, I’m speaking at both SearchLove Boston in May, and MozCon in Seattle in July, two of the top conferences in our industry. 

The fact that I’m speaking at even one of these conferences (the same ones that I attended wide-eyed and awe-struck last year) is an honor, and with two, I think I’m going to have to just pack it all in — it can’t get any better than this.



To grow into being considered among the top industry experts who will appear on that stage (especially within a 10 month window) is a huge accomplishment. For me, the experience is reward enough, but yes, I do anticipate it will contribute to Mack Web’s growth this year.

I became an SEOmoz Associate & we’ve signed some clients

Another exciting result of all this hard work is being asked to be an SEOmoz Associate. Carrying this title is an incredible honor and accolade (that, and they have a tremendous following: more than 200,000 on Twitter; 100,000 on Facebook, and 31,000 on Google+). I am proud to represent Moz each month when I write for their blog.



SEOmoz is an amazing company and community. They are admirably passionate about educating and being helpful and I can’t say enough about how they’ve contributed to our growth.

In the last few months, we have been receiving (qualified) leads from my posts on SEOmoz. This is not only flattering, but it is especially exciting because we spend so much time educating and qualifying our clients. To acquire potential clients that are not only avid SEOmozzers, but avid SEOmozzers who have read and resonate with what I’ve written, we’re definitely heading in the right direction.

Update: Mack Web has now signed clients off of our content marketing efforts on Moz. That’s all I have to say about that.

How to make all of this work for your business

Over the last 10 months, we’ve figured some stuff out (through good old fashioned trial and error). If you decide to take the plunge with SEO, social media, and content marketing to build your business, here’s a few things that may help smooth out the road ahead:

Have a goal and break it down
Make some lofty goals, but then make sure that you also break them down into baby steps; actionable, chewable pieces that you can digest and actually work on along your journey.



Share the responsibility for your goals with your whole team. Even if you’re a small company, don’t let the burden rest on just one person (like the founder or CEO) or you won’t get very far. Everyone can be accountable and take responsibility for a part of the plan. (You may, however, have one person who is assigned to managing or facilitating the strategy so that accountability is maintained).

Be sure to assign specific tasks and deadlines or they won’t happen. Just as if you were your own client, create an execution calendar. Have weekly meetings to keep each other on track. This will allow everyone to communicate and if someone has hit a roadblock or has a challenge they’re struggling with it can be solved instead of completely derailing all of your efforts.

Keep in mind that you may not ever get to your actual end goal, but that doesn’t really matter (if you’re doing the work). You’re going to have some great things happen along the way that may even lead to bigger and better things that you hadn’t foreseen or originally intended.

And don’t forget to celebrate. You’re going to be working hard and it’s important to bask in even the smallest victories.

Go to conferences (or other places where there is learning and people)

Don’t just learn digitally. Get in there. Learn first hand and meet people face-to-face. It’s called relationships. It’s what makes things great. It’s also what manifests serendipity.

There’s something that happens when you’re in the moment, wading around in the palpable energy of all of those great people at conferences that kind of just puts things into motion. Social media does not work without the human element. You’ve got to put yourself out there and be with people.

So, do that, and then read. Read a lot. (We may have mentioned this once or twice). Read stuff from people inside of your industry, and read stuff you’re interested in outside of your industry. Read everything you can get your hands on. Read until your eyes bug out of your head. Do it. Make it part of your routine. Since we made learning a priority as a team, everything improved: creativity, innovation, productivity, and delivery.

When you read, pay attention to who you’re reading and curate their stuff. Share it on social media, and, if you’re writing, integrate it into your blog posts. Create a little group of people that you think are awesome and keep tabs on the people you respect. Maybe someday you’ll go to a conference and you’ll get to have a beer and be friends in real life.

That’s the best part.

Find your groove

Bottom line, set some goals and have a strategy. It works.

But above everything else, and especially if you’re thinking of using content as a tool to reach your goals, think first about what you’re passionate about. If you choose something to focus on and write (and even speak) about, it better be something you really love.

But before you just select your focus based on your passion, do some research. Is there someone already out there writing and speaking about the topic that you’re passionate about? If so, how can you be unique? What can you add to the conversation? In your writing especially, you want to be generating stuff that is better than what’s already out there. Not only for your audience, but also so that your content has a nice cozy little place in Google’s index.

For me, I just got out there and started writing about the stuff I knew and had experienced with our clients. In the end, ruminating on my journey in my company brought me clarity on where I wanted my focus to be. It may be that way for you too. Just be strategic about it because when you have intent, the (positive) results seem to come more naturally.

Being passionate is more important than any other tool, tip, or technique

This last year hasn’t been about the web marketing that we’ve done for Mack Web. On a personal level, this last year has been all about discovering my passion for building this company into something remarkable. This passion that I feel about Mack Web comes from the same passion I feel for the culmination of SEO, social media, and content marketing (all the tools we’ve used to build our community and experience these results). This is something I wish I could instill in everyone who wants to take this web marketing journey.

If you read this and think, “ok, so what you’re saying is I have to write exactly 25 blog posts, and go to three conferences (which ones were those again?), and get really focused,” then you’re completely missing the point.

There isn’t an exact formula. There isn’t a magic path to take. The truth of it is that you could do all of these same things that I just described and not experience any of the success. You’ve got to be passionate, care about your business and your community, and keep doing the work.

Here’s to working toward big goals

So we haven’t received the Best Web Marketing Company in the West award (I’m pretty sure Ryan Seacrest will be contacting us directly any day now), but, as you can see, the ‘smaller‘ victories we experienced in those 10 months have more than compensated.

We may never reach our five year goal, but this journey is pretty sweet. I think we’ll stick with it.

Coming Soon: Online Community Building Gold

By | Building Community, Events, Uncategorized | 6 Comments

A small obsession

You may have noticed, if you follow this blog at all, that we talk a lot about building online communities. In fact, were this not a digital medium, we might have wiped out a moderately-sized copse of trees with the pages and pages we’ve written on the topic.

(Please note that we would have replanted the hypothetical grove after we cleared it. We love the earth).

With our established interest in cultivating your online community, it probably won’t surprise you that we’re working to put together something a little special.

At long last

At this exact moment in time (unless it’s, y’know, nighttime or very early morning. Or snack time. Or if Firefly reruns are on), we are pulling together a comprehensive guide on growing/building/cultivating your online community (choose your metaphor at will).

We’re pretty excited about this resource and we think you will be, too. (If you’re not, don’t tell us. You’ll crush our little hearts).

A sneak peek (only not really)

So we won’t actually be showing you clips or screenshots of the guide  (tippy-top secret stuff, that), but here’s what we will be doing.

We’ll tell you about it. (Lucky you).

The Mack Web Solutions’ Truly Excellent and Fantastic Guide to Building Online Communities for All and Sundry (so, the title is a work in progress. For now, we mostly just call him Arthur), is going to be a complete guide on growing an online community from scratch.

All you need to get started is a few seed ideas and a basic concept of what you’d like to accomplish.

That’s not so very much, is it?

From that starting point, the guide will walk you through finding the right outlets, finding the right people, and starting the (we won’t lie) rather difficult work of reaching out to them.

But wait, there’s more…

You’ll notice that even in our absurdly descriptive working title, we never once call it a “beginner’s guide” to anything. That, friends, is deliberate.

Because even though the thing will work for beginners, it’s not just for them. Getting started is just, well, the beginning.

Our Awesomely Comprehensive and Objectively Beautiful Guide to Making Online Friends (yeah…maybe not that one either), will also:

  • move into the intermediate steps of coaxing to full-bloom the little seedlings that have started to sprout, and
  • the final stage in the cycle of keeping your community healthy and abundant once it’s established.

We will be embellishing all this lovely, practical information with case studies and real life examples and possibly the occasional overdrawn metaphor. And we’ll be doing all this with our unique and celebrated (frequently. with cookies) Mack Web flair.

You’re gonna love it.

Here’s what we need from you. Yes, you.

At the moment, we’re trying to gauge the level of interest the Handy-Dandy Guide to Not Being a Cyber Hermit.

Because we know that we’re pretty thrilled. (But then, we also find llamas oddly endearing, so…). We’re in touch with reality enough to know that not everyone shares our enthusiasms.

And, quite frankly, if no one cares about our project…well, we’ll be very sad. There were will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and probably rather a lot of ice cream.

And then we’ll move on. Life’s too short, y’know?

So here’s what you can do. We’re collecting a list of people who might find a use for it. So go to our Building Online Communities page (where on that glorious day the Currently Incomplete But Someday Absurdly Thorough Guide to Not Being a Meanie will live) and let us know.

And because we’re just that good, there’s also ways to share this exciting possibility with the world via social media.

Not so difficult, eh?

So, go. See. Sign up. Share. Then go out and enjoy the day. The sunshine’s on us.

 

Profile of a Thriving Online Community

By | Building Community, Social Media, Web Marketing | 2 Comments

If you’re from Fort Collins, it’s not unlikely that you go out to eat often. (Don’t we have the highest number of restaurants per capita?).

And if you go out to eat often, you’ve probably heard of “Feasting Fort Collins”. (If none of those things are true, well…you’re missing out.)

It’s really too bad if you haven’t because “Feasting Fort Collins” is a fantastic example of what a thriving online community should look like and a great object lesson in how to grow and maintain one.

Just in case, let me start off with a quick overview.

A Hyperlocal Blog
Feasting Fort Collins is a hyperlocal food blog, meaning that the content is focused solely on reviews for Fort Collins. It was established in 2009, and provides the community with non-biased reviews of locally owned restaurants.

Introducing the Blogger
Kristin Mastre is the one and only Community Manager and Food Blogger for Feasting Fort Collins. For a one woman show, her community is pretty much what we’d hope for everyone. (But trust me, she has put A LOT of work into it.)

As you can see from the review of food truck, The Waffle Lab, she does a great job of integrating story telling with creativity and provides readers with great images. (This review was a 5 star and we agreed with it. We really LOVE grabbing lunch from The Waffle Lab food truck.)

Kristin has written well over 500 reviews on this particular blog over the past three years, all the while managing the online community she has built from scratch.

Building Community Takes Work
From her past experiences in blogging (in the early 2000s she had her own parenting blog AND nutrition blog), Kristin learned quickly how important it is to manage your online community.

“I realized the importance of community management through blogging. I remember there were tons of comments on my posts. I learned how to handle positive and negative feedback, how to keep the conversations going, how to manage crazy people without going crazy myself…That was my first time dealing with internet “trolls”.”

That experience was how Kristin came to understand that community management is a full time job and that it requires a specific skill set.

A Community Manager’s Schedule
Although her main focus is providing reviews for her readership through her food blog, Kristin also has to manage the thriving community her blog has attracted.

She publishes 3 types of posts a week:

  1. Eat of the Week, a community-oriented newsletter, which has interviews, questions, and editorials,
  2. A review of a local restaurant, and
  3. Sunday Table Talk newsletter, which covers a lot of different topics

Kristin isn’t a fan of tools that help push out content (she’d rather share than push), so she manually posts on Facebook and Twitter immediately after a review goes live. She also posts her reviews on Yelp, Urbanspoon, and Pinterest.

She spends about an hour a day conversing on various platforms, sometimes more depending on the day.

Also, as a food blogger she checks into Foursquare and at times, she has had her readers tweet at her because they were there, too. She’ll meet up with her readers in-real-life and spend the time chatting. This creates community conversation. Can you say win?

Feasting Fort Collins Social Outlets
Feasting Fort Collins on Facebook:


With over 2,500 “liking” the blog’s Facebook page, and more than 100 people talking about it, it’s obvious that she is doing something right.

On Twitter it’s not much different:


She’s been on Twitter for about 3 years… if you average out her tweets per year, it’s about 8 tweets a day. If you’re currently active on Twitter, you know that is a pretty good number of tweets! Talk about activity and engagement.

Who The Blog Reaches
Through the web marketing tools we use,  we can see that even though Kristin’s blog is focused on Fort Collins’ restaurants, her reach goes farther than even she knew. For instance, through Twitter, she is able to capture international attention:

Not surprisingly, the highest number of her followers are in Colorado, but when we take a closer look at the US, it’s pretty clear that she has built a decent following throughout the country.

Because her target audience is in Fort Collins, it’s only natural that the majority of her community is right here in good ol’ Northern Colorado.

(Though let’s be clear that this is just people who follow her on Twitter. She has 1000 more followers on Facebook).

A Community Isn’t Built Overnight
The Feasting Fort Collins community is one that has been fed and nurtured for several years. One of the most difficult things for Kristin is learning how to balance the time commitment for managing her community and balancing everything else.

“People need to be realistic. It’s not 5 minutes here or 10 minutes there,” remarks Kristin ruefully on her community building activity.

But she also shares how worthwhile it is. “I started blogging when I was pregnant with my first son to keep a journal of my motherhood experiences and as a way to share those with family out-of-state. After he was born, I realized that I could work from home by blogging and started a business blog that made income. It all snowballed from there!”

“The most rewarding experience has been developing true friendships with some readers over time. I’ve gained some of my dearest friends in life who started out as readers commenting on reviews.”

Kristin understands that in order to get a 100% return on all of her hard work, she also needs to put in 100%. Every community – hers included – takes time to build and she had to foster it by being consistent with content, engagement, and real-life meetings.

Kristin was gracious enough to share her visit statistics. As you can see starting way back in 2010, her consistency was the driving force behind her community growth’s  steady climb.

You can also see what happened when that consistency started to decline.

Consistency and Transparency Matter
Kristin is quite open with her readership, so in July of 2012, when her eldest son began having some health problems, Kristin let her community know about it and told everyone that she was putting her family first.

You can see that there are a few months where the traffic to her site was down, but because she was transparent, and still writing, the community didn’t leave her altogether. And when she announced that things were looking up for her kiddo, her engagement bounced back and her website became more popular than ever.

The Moral of the Thriving Community Story Is…
There are three important things to take away from Kristin’s story about building a thriving community:

It takes time.
It takes skills.
It takes consistency.

Feasting Fort Collins does a great job fostering its online community; there is no doubt that you can, too.

I encourage you to take a look at your own community. Are you providing valuable content? Do you comment back to people who post-retweet-plus one-share your stuff? Are you writing about the things your community wants and needs?