Emailing 101: Make a list. Check it thrice.

Over the years, I’ve written a bunch of emails. My gmail “Sent” box is at 5,000+. No joke. Add to that all of the mass emails I’ve written and executed. Phew. I’m gonna skip calculating the total. Math makes me want to take a nap. Let’s just say a lot. I receive a lot too. Every now and then I get one that merits immediate intervention. Seriously, step AWAY from the send button. Slowly, slowly, and nobody has to get hurt.

I just received super weird 952 word newsletter (no ⁋ breaks – gah!) from my favorite online estate jewelry wholesaler. It covered everything from:

  • A Bible reference I didn’t quite get.
  • A missive on the ‘Occupy’ movement.
  • News of a recent move up North and subsequent nostalgia for “huge noble century old (palm) trees that have stood the test of time. These regal trees watched our forefathers ox-plowing the land, they witnessed the pride of the common man as he worked his leased land and his respect for the landed gentry to whom he paid a tithe.)
  • Topical blurbs including the upcoming Christie’s New York auction of Liz Taylor’s gems and a supplementary chart explaining how the current consumer price index (CPI) for jewelry makes this the perfect time to buy bling.

Thumbs up for the relevancy of the latter pieces, but it’s worth noting that the link and code for the new merchandise preview extended to subscribers mentioned in the subject line were buried at the end of the email. (Again, props where they are due: that’s a GREAT value proposition to incentivize site visitors to fork over their address.)

I’m relatively certain my critique would not be welcomed by the vendor in question, but I’d like to share some tips as “one to grow on” for interested parties charged with broadcast email campaigns for organizations. If you don’t want to take my word for it, listen to the really, really smart people quoted below.

Takeaway #1

“Brevity is the soul of wit.” – William Shakepeare

Take a note from ‘The Bard’. 952 words is TOO long.

  • Not having ⁋ breaks included (or in this case, properly formatted HTML) make it seem five times longer.
  • I don’t recommend that you try to pack that much into any one communication. Period. If you must, pare down each point to the minimum and provide links to expanded commentary on your website.
  • Having extra content is actually a GOOD thing. Divide it up into multiple newsletters and schedule them for future release. Take the time saved, kick up your heels and enjoy a relaxing beverage.

Takeaway #2

“Send in haste. Repent in leisure.” – Proverb Adaptation

When emails are tough on the eyes, they don’t get read.

  • Worse yet, folks unsubscribe. In droves. Or even worser (yes-i-know-that’s-not-a-word), you get reported as a spammer. Then your email marketing provider has to get all up in your business. Trust me, the hassle is worth avoiding.
  • This is completely avoidable as most providers have a “Test” feature for both HTML and “text only” versions. If the email is pristine when you’re editing, you may wonder, “Why bother?” with an extra step. Well…
    • HTML can be tricky. What looks fine in the WYISWYG editor can come out wonky, especially if you’ve made changes to font style and size that conflict with the email template CSS.
    • The program the recipient uses to read emails effects how your content looks when it gets to their inbox. (MailChimp offers a one-click option that checks how your email holds up with most major email clients.)

Takeaway #3

“Great is our admiration of the orator who speaks with fluency and discretion.” – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Sharing personal information is a great way to connect to your readers. BUT (and this is a big but) you need keep it light and filter your thoughts.

  • Make it brief, keep the pontification to a minimum, and put the personal stuff in a letter style intro or closing section.
  • Keep away from political and religious fodder… and extensive details about your kids/dogs/cats/turtle/possum. Respect the fact that people who signed up to receive your emails did so with the implicit trust that you would be providing valuable information about something in which they have an interest.
  • CAVEAT: You get a pass on the above rule if politics/religion/kids/dogs/cats/possums are central to your brand. Other than that, start a personal blog as an outlet for personal interests.

So, that’s my list. Did I miss anything? I’d welcome your tips, tricks, and cautionary tales in the comments.

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Making Boston Awesome, One Wall at a Time

There was a whole lot of Awesome in the submissions bag for the Boston chapter’s September 2011 Fellowship. One in particular stood out. Internationally known mural artist, Caleb Neelon, applied for spray paint and sandwich money to underwrite the transformation of a large wall for the Tobin School in Mission Hill. For those who love art and our fair city, Neelon’s TEDx Boston presentation (‘Courting the Creative Class’) is a must watch. Want to know more? Here’s a blurb from the application:

I’ll have some artists coming in from out of town and it’ll be a great time. Right now I don’t have any idea what we’ll be painting, but that’s the way I like it, and the school principal is fine with that. I know it’ll be really colorful. The wall is boring crummy brick and needs some love.

This will be the 2nd project Neelon has done for the elementary school. Weather permitting, painting will begin this weekend as a lead in to his upcoming talk at the MFA (Sunday, September 25th @ 2pm) and recently released book, The History of American Graffiti. Follow the link to Amazon. The reviews are pretty freakin’ awesome.

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Agility Training

This what they mean when they talk about ‘Agile Development’, right?

(Danke Suse) via sickr

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The Gator Curator

The most valuable business lesson I have learned to date caught me by surprise on the main floor of the Jacob Javits Center. It was an unlikely, and rather large, de facto classroom. I was three years out of school, and as such, was a pro with a discerning eye and an innate business acumen that (hollowly) threatened to take the world by storm.

The non-profit I worked at had a custom invitation fundraising program in partnership with a mid-sized family-owned stationery company. They cordoned off a small section of their booth at the National Stationery Show to feature their support of our programs. The show itself is a pretty big deal and was, by far, my favorite week of the year. Vendors were a motley crew of artists who held court as buyers in sensible shoes walked miles of unpadded carpet aisles in search of items that make people happy to part with their hard earned cash at super cute local indie gift shops and Hallmark chains alike. Ten years later, I can’t walk into the greeting card section without finding the trendy / delightfully subversive lines of artisans I met at the Show.

Most companies book the same space year after year, and camaraderie develops amongst exhibitors as faces become familiar. The woman across the aisle from our booth (let’s call her ‘Suellen’) produced greeting cards out of Texas. The centerpiece of her display featured a line of fill-in-the-blank alligator themed event invitations:

  • a gator in an apron BBQing;
  • gators in caps and gowns, presumably receiving advanced degrees;
  • and the piece de la resistancé – a tuxedo clad gator and his crocodilian bride.

That first year, Suellen and I struck up a nice acquaintance over safe topics like the weather and her travel schedule. All the time, I was careful to avoid mention of tacky gators, lest my wonderment over their appeal be betrayed.

Mercifully, the gator topic came up indirectly the following year. We had time to talk more in depth during the afternoon trade show slump. She answered my questions about concept development, graphic arts outsourcing, distribution channels, and sales analysis. Apparently, Suellen bought out the previous owner who had produced the alligator themed invitations among others. After having produced a number of own her designs, she sat down and tallied the sales numbers, keen to get rid of those god-awful gators. As luck would have it, the upwardly-mobile-love-struck-gator-couple were laying golden eggs. They were, by far, her best sellers in the Gulf Coast States.

Removing ego and personal preference from the equation, Suellen expanded the line with great success and made a tidy profit by giving the gator-loving-disposable-income-spending customers what they wanted. Here’s what I learned: Adapt. Humbly serve the kind people who pay your bills. Sometimes the hallmark, pun intended, of a good business decision is that it is informed by what the market wants rather than singularly indulging personal tastes and aesthetic preferences.

The customer may not be right about everything, but they are always right about what THEY want. So, suck it up and make the best damned gator invitations you can. Then proudly mail ‘em out to announce the party celebrating your ensuing financial success.



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Droid Does… (aka the Disaster Communications App)

Access to communications technology is AWESOME, but not everyone has it. Cell phone towers are expensive and developing, remote, rural, and/or disaster ridden areas often don’t have those resources.

Expose an already weak communications infrastructure to the destruction of a natural disaster, and you have our collective nightmare: Asia circa 2004, Haiti, and the site of the next international incident. When chaos strikes, the speed and proficiency of local relief effort coordination translates directly to saved lives. With those critical moments in mind, Paul Gardner-Stephen (a post-doctoral fellow at Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia) founded The Serval Project.

The project goal is to, literally, give voice to communities outside the grid. The Awesome Foundation for the Arts and Sciences granted the project $1,000 in May 2010 to fund the adaptation of the Android OS for disaster relief communications.

Paul and his colleagues have spent the past few months writing software to create instant, decentralized, P2P phone networks. The equipment requirements are Android handsets and Village Telco’s “Mesh Potato” (a lightweight, low-cost, and low-power unit that serves as a building block for ad hoc networks). A key feature of Gardner-Stephen’s system allows users to send and receive messages using their actual cell phone number. With this rapidly deployed, cheap, and robust system, it is conceivable that local ground efforts could begin within moments of a disaster.

This week the prototype passed a field test in the South Australian desert with flying colors! Click here to see the local ABC affiliate coverage of their trip into the Outback. It’s AWESOME, but don’t take our word for it. Come to the Venture Cafe in the Cambridge Innovation Center (11th Floor) on Sat, July 24th @ 6p and see the technology in action for yourself.


The Alpha Bet

The Boston Globe’s ‘Innovation Economy’ columnist, Scott Kirsner, lit up the bat signal today. He’s calling all savvy end users to pitch in and help local tech entrepreneurs test, shape, and promote their products.

I’m there and have been since the late 1990s when I started littering the web with digital breadcrumbs in the form of various user accounts and profile pages. Some of the sites from ‘back in the day’ are still going strong and raking in the cash, while others are long gone and only available cached. Often the difference between the two is having quality, in-depth guidance from engaged users willing to give their time and feedback. That fact alone makes this call to action so compelling.

Kirsner speaks to Boston’s need to cultivate a class of users more actively engaged with entrepreneurs developing products. I couldn’t agree more which gives insight into why 2010 has been a boon for my geek street cred. It’s only the end of the first quarter and I’ve managed to worm my way into Alpha testing for three thoughtfully executed Boston area web products: Rally, tourfilter and Meetcha. The Beta ‘biz’ is booming too: Gist, Threadsy, and Thread. (Stay tuned: more on my impressions of these sites later…)

The short list of influential Boston area early adopters compiled for this article is worth checking out and I was pleased to find that many on the list overlap with my own. (Laura Fitton, Steve Garfield, Joselin Mane, Eric Andersen, Jon Pierce).

If I were to add one person to the list, I’d go with my friendly neighborhood online dating/start-up consultant extraordinaire, Dave Evans. His blog, ‘Online Dating Post,’ contains unparalleled comparative analysis of social technology products. The title can be misnomer as he covers a lot of ground outside of the online dating space. A lot of the new sites I try are at his behest and my knowledge of what’s out there is well-rounded for it.

So, Boston: who else should I keep my eye on?

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Hot off the WordPress

It’s T-Minus sixteen days until the inaugural WordCamp Boston! I’ve been looking forward to this event for a while.  My training regimen began in earnest on November 13, 2009 when I tuned in for the live stream of WordCamp Phoenix. (Thanks GoDaddy!) I haven’t found an outfit as comfortable as the jammies I donned for the Phoenix event, but that’s the price I’ll gladly pay for the opportunity to hang out with other communications technophiles and open sourcerers in person. Sign up for the waitlist and maybe they’ll let you join the fun on Saturday, January 23, 2010. Geek on!


Invasion of the Pod Tweeple #pcb4

I never had the whole “Kumbaya” camp experience as a kid. There were two summers I was signed up for the town rec. department’s “Summer Scene” day program. A few weeks in, they’d run out of gimp. I’d be out of the bracelet making biz, free to spend time with the devil’s spawn little angels from my class who showed their affection by bestowing upon me a super-great nickname. Man – I sure had a lot of <cough>”colds”</cough> that summer.

Thankfully, PodCamp came to the rescue last weekend and gave my inner child a big ole’ hug. (Better late than never, right?) Over the course of my career I‘ve been lucky enough to work in several great industries. That said, the new media space is by far the most welcoming and vibrant community I have experienced. Spending two days with other professionals engaged with adopting technology to enrich everyday life was transformational. In short: y’all rocked my world. No joke.

I’m still working through my notes, so I’ll write another post to share my highlights. In the meantime, I’d like to send shout outs to the folks who made my PCB4 experience so fab-u-lous. Guido Stein, Adam Zand, Steve Garfield, Tamsen McMahon, Mick Darling, Michael Lawson, Sam Sacks, Todd Van Hoosear, Gradon Tripp, Kurt Eng, Dave Werner, Jeff Cutler, Joselin Mane, David Wieneke, Rick Stein, Mike Volpe, Karen Rubin, Christopher Penn, Chris Brogan, CC Chapman, Rich Sands, Dave Cutler, Patrick Richardson, Bob Collins, Matt Searle, Steve Sherlock, Richard Reeve, Christine Major, Chris Abraham, Roberta Baldwin, Al Willis, Dan Ronke and the countless other session participants with whom I did not speak directly. And then there are the people I didn’t get the chance to meet.  Don’t even get me started on that list. @cspenn gave a great tip on Twitter about checking the Event Brite registration list for a memory jolt re: names and contact info. Thanks Chris!

I’ve been following the #pcb4 Twitter stream and have gotten a lot out of the thoughtful posts written.  The links I’ve grabbed are shared below.  Consider it my little “thanks-for-being-awesome” treat.


  • These links were pulled from public forums. Regardless, if anyone would like me to remove their content, I would be happy to do so.
  • Please email me or post any links I missed in the comments and I will add them to the list.


Jeff Cutler – Foot Fetish, Podcamp Boston 4 #pcb4, PCB Who’s Who in Whosville, & Podcamp Boston 4 – Special Session – The Future of Work
Chris Brogan – Seeds in a Wild Garden
Christopher Penn – Breaking the shackles on your potential at pcb4
Gradon Tripp – Post pcb4 wrap-up: what a difference a year makes, The #PCB4 Session That Shouldn’t Have Happened & Talking Philanthropy and Social Media at #PCB4
Guido Stein – Notes from PCB4
Aneta Hall – Best Tweets of pcb4 day 1 & Day 2 at pcb4
Skip Bensley – The Visual Suspects at pcb4
Todd Randolph – In Defense of Talking to Strangers
David Cutler – Our PodCamp Boston Session “City 2.0”
David Weineke – PCB4 Social Media Is Changing
Chris Abraham – Reputation Dismorphism
TechNewsMadeSimpleHow to start podcasting, Is social media worth it?, Web video future…, Writing in social media, Social media & education, Web optimization, & Best equipt. for video podcast
Critt Jarvis – Video Podcast
Dan Hermes – Podcasting Getting Started
Doug Haslam – PCB4 Aging Gracefully
Jamie Pappas – Clever Marketing by Garifusion During pcb4
Jeff Rutherford – Social Media Self Consciousness
Peg Mulligan – PCB4 new media social media conference/
Stuart Foster – 33 Ways to Drive Blog Traffic
Tony Loftis – What I Saw at PCB4
Richard Reed – Arts and Crafts (Inaugural Podcast!)
Uncommon Bostonian – Day 1 of pcb4 & Day 2 of pcb4
Adam Pieniazek – Ungoals for pcb4
Henri Codolfing – Battledecks and Pecha Kucha at Podcamp
Jeremy Meyers – The story is the results so don’t try to tell it yourself, Don’t be sexy, be good. Good is sexy. & PodCamp Boston Recap
Len Edgerly – Odds and ends from PCB4 & TKC Extra Will the Kindle Save Reading
Matthew Grant – PCB4: my me too thoughts and reflections
Mike Proulx – Notes from PCB4
Beth Dunn – Exhibit A
Kevin Mullins – PodCamp Boston – Social Media and Social Networking
Amanda MacArthur – Notes & quotes from PCB4
Michael Lawson – What I learned on my summer vacation (#pcb4)
PK Shiu – Can we separate our online personal & professional lives?
Charles Seymour – Short Stories and Marketing Lessons To Rocket Your Sales (scroll to #26)
Dan Ronken – My 3 Takeaways from PCB4
Kimberly Reynolds – PCB4 Mojo Discovered Anew
Paul Monaco – It’s Your Podcamp
Jonathon Bloom – Had a great time at PodCamp Boston 4
Mélanie Millett – Podcamp Boston et les outils d’écoute en ligne
Stacy Crosby – #pcb4 – Podcamp Boston = WOW!
Steve Robins – Podcamp Boston Redux
Georgiana Cohen – Podcamp Boston
David Karp – Kindle vs lumber at podcamp & Podcamp panel ponders power of philanthropic philosophies: build or buy, Gates or Buffett
Eventbrite – PodCamp Boston won Eventbrite’s Twitter Hashup content for 3600+ #pcb4 tagged tweets!

Ronald “Buzz” Brindle – My First Video Podcast
Trish – Is my n00b showing
Ron Ploof – Jeff Pulver at Podcamp Boston 4
Gina Minks – Podcamp Boston, lack of women speakers, and bringing things to neutral
Terri Orlowski – Podcasting with Care

LADIES, ALL THE LADIES (Women in Social Media)

Cynthia Barnes – Pumas, Cocks & Cougars: Who won?
Sarah Wurrey – Sarah & Julia (& Podcamp Boston), Media Bulls-eye: The Women Problem & Live From Logan Airport, It’s an Exhausted Podcamper!
Christopher Penn – Arguing Against Your Limitations
Michelle Wolverton – PCB4 Thoughts and Community
Tamsen McMahon – 3 Keys to Success No Matter Who or What You Are
Rakiesha Chase – The Girl Power Session & Podcamp Boston pcb4 Review
LizPWWhat ruffled my feathers at PodCamp Boston: In defense of the “Mommyblogger


PCB4 Through the Lens of CC Chapman
Melinda Moses – Picasa
Joselin Mane – Facebook Album
Gradon Tripp – Facebook Album
William Widugiris’ – Facebook Album
Kathryn Velvel Jones’ – Facebook Album
FlickR search – #pcb4
FlickRjeromeparadis: Day 1 & Day 2

VIDEO – Matthew Ebel
Matthew Mamet – Melinda Moses’ session, the outdoor session, and session on Web Video
Patrick Hughes – PodCamp Boston 4 Recap Video
PodCamp Boston 2009 – YouTube Videos #pcb4
Mike Langford – Brown Bagging It at PodCamp Boston &


SlideShare Search – pcb
Skip Bensley (brilliantvideo) – Web Video: Where is it going and where will it end?
Guido Stein – Start Podcasting
Gradon Tripp – 24 Reasons why Twitter sucks & Philanthropic Style and Social Media: Are you a Gates or a Buffett?
Jamie Pappas – How do you get your company to see the value of social media pcb4 session?
Justin Whitaker – Forget ROI
Kabren Levinson – What can Social Media do for Education?
Wayne Kurtzman – Measure Social Media Interactions

ElizabethHannanGrowing Online Communities and Measuring Online Metrics

Hubspot – Inbound Marketing Summit in Foxboro Oct 7-8



How do you start this podcasting thing? – Guido Stein
What is the future of writing in social media? Rick Stein
What’s on our minds? Christopher Penn, Chris Brogan, CC Chapman
How can you use video podcasting for B2B marketing? Mike Volpe and Karen Rubin
Women in Social Media – Breakout Session
How not to be a Social Media DB – Breakout Session