Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

Gravity is for chumps

Archive for January, 2009

If I explain it to one person, I might as well…

If I explain it to one person, I might as well explain it to everyone. I received an email recently asking some questions and/or seeking clarification. Topics include ShalerJump photos, personal branding, and Twitter.

The sender’s name, pieces of the original email, and pieces of my response have been removed.

> My first impression of you from a year or two ago was, “Who is this clown
> who’s trying to be famous for jumping?” No offense.

I wouldn’t say I’m trying to be famous for jumping. I was part of a photography group and jump photos were a fun activity. The first photo of me jumping was taken in October of 2006.

After putting them online, they started getting tagged “ShalerJump” (by the photographers of each photo, not by me) so people could view all of them in a search result. A year later (November, 2007), I was at a conference and someone I had never met introduced me to someone else I had never met as “the guy that jumps.” It sounded fun and interesting, so I decided to roll with it. In May of 2008, I finally bought the domain name

> I read something you
> and/or Adam Nollmeyer wrote, like an interview, about what the Shaler Jump
> was and what it was intended to be… some sort of exercise in personal
> branding I seem to recall. I thought, “this guy is full of himself” and
> “what is he even supposed to be famous _for_?”

The jump photos started to become part of my personal brand when people saw them online and thought of me as “the guy that jumps.” That happened on its own. When I noticed this happening, I adopted it to help in grow, which is the point where it can actually be considered a personal branding effort.

Fame has nothing to do with it. The jump photos serve as both branding and marketing. The marketing side is what draws people in, looking at the photos for what they are and sharing them with friends. The brand side of it is when people actually associate the photos with a person. I brand myself as someone who has fun and does interesting things. (“fun” and “interesting” are both vague words, though I use them quite a bit)

I participated in the interview. Adam thought it would be a good idea to give people more back story on why there are all these photos of me online. To some extent, though, whenever we write publicly about it, we usually take a tongue in cheek approach of making it sound like there’s more to it than there really is. It’s to intrigue people and to mess with them a little bit. (“mess with” as in “confuse” or “to make stop and think”)

> Recently, my curiosity led me to read more about you.

This is something I try to accomplish. I don’t want to try to push who I am onto people. I want to draw people in by being interesting and triggering some level of intrigue.

> Call me old school,
> call me a skeptic, call me cynical, but I look for concrete reasons to
> respect someone, such as skills, talents (other than jumping ha ha),
> concrete accomplishments, etc. Once I did some digging through your
> websites, I realized that you do have some of these things. Maybe not so
> much that I understand why you have 10,617 followers on Twitter at the
> moment, but enough to see that you deserve credit for something other than
> having friends take photos of you while you jump like a lead guitarist in a
> rock band. :-)
> (I hope you’re catching onto my dry humor here. At least a little.)

[Brace yourself. Name-drop alert. Will probably sound uncharacteristically egotistical.]
I started working on personal branding after I realized that being an award-winning web developer didn’t make people respect you. There is one little place on one of my sites where you can find a brief mention of the fact I have worked with: Mazda, Nike, Boeing, Ford SVT, Lincoln (automotive), Mars Inc (Twix), Nivea For Men, Chrysler Financial, Shamrock Farms, blah blah blah.
[Done name-dropping]

You wouldn’t have found me or had an opportunity to judge me (whether or not you should respect me) if it hadn’t been for my for-fun stuff like ShalerJump photos,, various crap/tools/eye-candy I made for the Digg community, photography (+photography tutorials), various micro-sites (,,,, etc), and various things I did on Twitter during the last 1.5 years (TwitLibs, TAG: Twitter Acronym Game, etc).

This illustrates why personal branding and marketing was so crucial. I’m not trying to be “famous for jumping.” It’s simply one of those things I do because it’s fun, and it opens another avenue for people to find me.

> I still don’t understand why anyone would follow 5,741 people, much less be
> followed by twice that number. I’m not saying that in a mean way, just in an
> honest, baffled way. I currently follow 20 people. 5 of them bore me to
> death, 5 of them are tolerably interesting, and the other half don’t even
> update. And I’m getting ready to unfollow some more. ;-) How do you stand
> following 5,741? I would truly appreciate some insight into this.

I follow back everyone who follows me. It’s something Twitter set up for my account over a year ago. Last year, I was following more people than were following me. When I joined Twitter, I started by following a lot of people. Nowadays, I rarely follow people on my own. When/If they follow me, I automatically follow them back.

After Twitter set up the auto-follow-back functionality, my “following” count went up along with my “followers” count. A year ago, I was following over 11,000 people and was followed back by around 7,000. (@garyvee actually gave me crap about this at SXSW, on video. “Who follows 4,000 more people than are following?”) Since then, I have continued with the auto-follow-back, but I have been steadily unfollowing people who are spammers, don’t tweet in English, don’t actually USE twitter (e.g. all their tweets are from twitterfeed), etc. I have gotten it down to 5,741 (as of this writing: 5,712) and out of those, I can probably eventually get down to about 4,000 (but may never hit that specific number, because people will continue to follow me).

I don’t attempt to read every single post from everyone. There isn’t a single person on Twitter whose every update is completely relevant and useful to me. Some people have a high percentage of meaningful tweets, while others have a low percentage. By following a lot of people, I have the ability to “tune in” (like TV) to Twitter whenever I can and skim many tweets to see what’s going on.

There is no right or wrong way to use Twitter. I’m VERY interested in what is going on and what people are doing. I follow people who try to be funny/entertaining (140 characters is a great constraint for witty one-liners), I follow people who link to tech news, and I follow people in my industry (software development, web development, Flash, etc). I follow people who don’t exactly fit those criteria, but a little noise doesn’t hurt, as long as they’re human and tweeting about something. There’s nothing wrong with following only a few people and making sure never to miss a single update — the majority of Twitter users do exactly that.

Weekly Live Internet Video Show

I have never made a peep about this side project here on my blog. For about eight months, now, I have been doing a weekly live video broadcast. The only mention it has gotten from me has been on Twitter, right before going live.

The Super Wicked Awesome Show
with Chris Tingom and Brian Shaler

Every Monday evening after work (6:30pm MST) Chris and I fire up a live video stream and chat room. We talk and joke around. We showcase great stuff we have found around the Internet during the previous week and weekend. We’re always good for a laugh and you’ll probably see something very cool that you’ve never seen before! Though, we don’t always show content. It just depends on how the conversation goes. The goal of the show is simple: Bring a half hour of awesomeness.

The main reason I haven’t been heavily promoting it is because it has been a slowly evolving side-of-the-side project. For the first 5 months, the web site was simply black text on a white background, saying “Super Wicked Awesome” with a timer until the next episode.

Lately, we have been recording the shows and posting them on the Super Wicked Awesome Blog. It didn’t make sense to spend time week after week and only reach the 10-100 people who would tune in throughout the live episode.

Tonight, the show took another gradual step forward. We are now providing a podcast feed, with iPod/iPhone-compatible video downloads. I submitted the feed to iTunes and it may show up in a week or two.

We’re toying with the idea of giving away free stuff. Does your company have cool stuff to give away? Let me know! We have a small but growing international audience.

RSVP’d for Ignite Phoenix 3, Submissions Still Open

I just RSVP’d for Ignite Phoenix #3! If you’re in the Phoenix area, you need to go! If you’re not in Phoenix, see if your city has an Ignite event. If not, START ONE! They’re awesome. Look up videos online.

What: Ignite Phoenix #3
Cost: Free
When: Wednesday, February 25th
Time: 6:00pm to 9:00pm
Where: Tempe Center for the Arts, 700 W. Rio Salado Parkway
RSVP at Upcoming and/or Facebook!

If you want to submit, here is their submission page. The deadline is February 6th!

Videos from previous Ignite Phoenix events!

First Impressions Are Hit or Miss

They say you shouldn’t try to please everyone. You shouldn’t try to make everyone like you. I was thinking a little bit about why. I notice this in how the people around me treat me. I casually observe, knowing I can’t make people think of me the way I want them to, hoping to figure out what their first impression of me must have been.

People make up their minds about you within seconds of meeting you, seeing you, and talking with you. Occasionally, a person’s first impression can be swayed, if they’re open to it and if it’s drastically different from how they see you after that. This may sound like common sense, but it’s impossible to be fully aware of someone’s perception of meeting you.

I have two opposite examples.

Let’s start with the negative. I was at PodCampAZ 2 and was out to lunch with about 80 other attendees. I had just sat down at the end of a very long table of noisy social media people. Someone walked up to me, said, “Hi, I’m Bridget.” and reached out to shake my hand. I immediately shook her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Brian.” As far as I remember, that was about it. I was a little perplexed when the person who had walked up to shake my hand immediately walked away. Little did I know at the time, I had been connected with her and her husband on Twitter for a few months. What — to me — was a random and strange event during a hectic lunch was also — to someone else — a terrible first impression. I found out later she told other people who had never met me I act like I’m full of myself. One bad first impression resulted in a few bad zeroth impressions!

Here’s one that’s positive. I helped organize Startup Weekend Phoenix. During the event, we encouraged bloggers, podcasters, and photographers to attend for free to make some media for the event. I was bouncing around the teams to make sure everything was going alright and I saw someone walk in with a camera. “Great!” I thought. I rushed over to him to get him situated with what was going on so he could take some photos. Turns out, the camera was an excuse to poke around and see what was going on. This was his first peek into the Phoenix tech community, and he had someone enthusiastically showing him around and getting him up to speed. It seems like the enthusiasm got through, because he went to all of the tech events in the following weeks. In a matter of weeks, he went from not knowing much about the Phoenix tech community to being a regular, and I was there to welcome him in. Also, at each of the events, I was either helping organize or I was speaking. If that isn’t an ideal first impression, I don’t know what is.

It seems like most people fall in between. No matter how “good” of a person you may think you are, first impressions can go bad and you usually won’t even know about it.

Watch your first impressions and examine what about people gave you a good impression of them.

Even If You Don’t Expect It

When you think about viral marketing, you think about intentionally making something people might want to tell their friends about. It’s not easy to inspire this behavior in others and it usually takes a truly stunning product or message to get any word of mouth traction.

So if you any spend time trying to think of thing you could make that people would want to share, you would likely to be as surprised as me at something accidentally going viral. It just goes to show the importance of the sharability of content.

I was reading some local blogs and I saw a post about satellite photo of interesting shapes and objects on the ground. (If you’re spending time reading RSS feeds, you’re doing yourself a disservice by not commenting. I’ll go into more detail on that in a later post.) It reminded me of a collection of aerial photos I had found. Yes, aerial, “in the air,” is not the same as satellite, “in space,” but it’s cool bird’s eye photography nonetheless. To find the aerial photos, I looked where I had last found them: on Digg. When I finally found them, I “dugg” the digg page linking to the photos and then commented on the blog with a link to the photos.

I didn’t think anything of the vote on Digg. The goal was not to “promote” the multi-year-old Digg submission or even the photos. I didn’t tell anyone about it and it seems like the blog comment didn’t actually go through! But nonetheless, I got to see the ripple of people sharing the link I had retrieved and dugg. All it took was one person watching FriendFeed — I don’t actively use it, but my Digg votes show up there — and sharing it with his friends.

Just reinforces the idea that sharable content is in nature viral. The more sharable it is, the less emphasis you have to put on the “marketing” in “viral marketing.”

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