When is a headline not a headline?

I’m one of those people who still reads newspapers. Even worse, I still get the print newspaper delivered to my doorstep every day. I could wax eloquent about the tactile pleasure and serendipitous delight of paging through a print newspaper, but I’ll spare you.

Often, I find an article thought-provoking enough that I want to share it and my thoughts to the world. Easy – I pop online, find the digital version of the article, and no one needs to know I saw the article first on a dead tree.

However, I ran into problems recently when I looked up the online version of a Wall Street Journal article and couldn’t retrieve it by searching for the title. Eventually, I found it; my problem had been that the digital version had an entirely different title than the print. Curious, I compared a week’s worth of print and digital headlines of WSJ articles and found that fewer than a quarter of the headlines were the same. While some of the titles were similar (“Boeing Scrambles to Get Key Part” and “Boeing, Supplier Wrestle to Produce Key Component”), others were entirely different (“Bye, Boss, Let’s Stay Friends Forever” and “How to Leave Your Job Gracefully”).

When I asked Dow Jones about the discrepancy between print and digital headlines, I got the following not-entirely-satisfying response:

At the Journal we are constantly refining our approach to headlines to ensure that our readers are automatically drawn to our work, whether printed on a page or comprised of pixels.  We often fine-tune headlines in order to reflect developing news and improve SEO, but at the end of the day we are always looking for the best blend of digital optimization and smart journalism.

HERE is a table of the headlines from my one-week sample. Lesson: to find the digital equivalent of a print article quickly, search for a few unusual or distinctive words in the text rather than for words in the headline.


Using Social Media For “Real” Research?!?

In preparing for one of my presentations at Web Search University, I was asked whether social media could actually be used for “real” research… that is, to support strategic decisions and better outcomes. And what about the concerns of some researchers about privacy in social media?

My response was that yes, I used to be somewhat skeptical about the value of information found on social media, probably because it looks so different from what we info pros get through traditional information sources. But I was curious, and started seeing what I could user social media for. While there is a fair amount of noise in the social sphere, I can find information in LinkedIn or Twitter that I would never have been able to find using our more traditional online resources. And the data-mining I can do in social media gives me new ways to create insights for my clients. Granted, regardless of the kind of research you are doing, you have to think like a competitive intelligence professional. It’s all in knowing what you are looking at and recognizing warning signs or clues in amongst the likes, shares and retweets.

And regarding privacy concerns, I think the issue is overblown, particularly for us information professionals. We know how to modify our privacy settings to ensure that we are not leaving footsteps behind. We know what and how much to share on social media. And we have the information-evlauation skills to assess the value and reliability of what we find. Info pros can see beyond the hype and can see social media resources as the valuable tools they are, while remaining mindful of privacy and security concerns.

Watch my Speaking Extras page for the slide deck to this presentation, and check out the materials from some of my other recent presentations.

Earning word-of-mouth referrals

Maybe it’s because I was getting ready for my webinar, From Zero to Clients: Starting (or Re-starting) Your Word-of-Mouth Referral Machine, but I reached out to my network several times last week, asking for referrals for various jobs I needed done. What I experienced showed me just how critical these referrals are for solopreneurs and how important it is to excel if you have been referred to someone.

I needed to find a copy writer to help me promote my online courses. I asked a colleague who was active in the local chapter of the Business Marketing Association, who asked the chapter’s executive director. The person they both thought of came with glowing recommendations. He is great at calls to action, great at copy writing, always delivers when promised. Another colleague gave me the name of a consultant who had done work for her start-up and by all accounts had been great to work with. I had a brief conversation with each person and was struck by the difference in the two conversations. The one recommended by his peers in BMA was direct and to the point. He followed up with samples of his work and a proposal that focused on specifically the job I needed done. I spent half an hour with the other consultant, talking about my business and where it was going. I emphasized that I really just had a straightforward assignment for a landing page; she sent me an in-depth proposal to address all my marketing communication needs for the next six months. While it was a great proposal, it didn’t address my needs, and I went with the one recognized by his peers as being right for the job.
Lesson learned? Referrals from peers and colleagues are sometimes better than referrals from clients (whose needs may differ from mine). As a solopreneur, I want to make sure all my colleagues know who I am and see me as someone worth referring others to.

I had two less-satisfying experiences with other referrals. I was looking for a WordPress consultant to migrate this very blog over to my server. It’s a small job, but one for which I don’t want to invest the time for my learning curve. A colleague gave me the name of her tech consultant with a glowing referral. Not once but twice, we agreed on a time for a Skype call and he didn’t show up, didn’t explain, didn’t apologize. My colleague was embarrassed and I was disappointed.

I had a similar experience with finding someone to clean out the crawl space under my house, where a critter had set up residence. I asked a friend who owns an environmental consulting firm for a recommendation, and she pointed me to one of her regular contractors. As with the tech consultant, my critter consultant arranged twice to meet me at my home, and twice failed to show up. My friend was so annoyed that she decided not to stop doing business with the consultant; his lack of attention to a prospect meant that he lost a long-time client. My friend called another consultant and made him promise to come over to my house and take care of the problem before giving me his contact information. (He worked out great, but his specialty is meth house clean-ups, so I hope to never have to use him again! But if you have a meth lab problem in Colorado, I’ve got your man.)
Lesson learned? When people refer you to others, their reputation is on the line. If you let them down, they remember not to use or refer you again. As a solopreneur, I know I have to be extra-responsive if someone has been referred to me.