When you are working to build your personal brand, it is important that you contribute relevant and timely information about your topic of interest. I assume you have chosen a topic to which you can add value based on your passion, skill and passion. But a large part of your ability to be relevant and timely comes from the hard work you put in research, writing and distribution/promotion of your content. And if you are like most of us, you have only limited time to dedicate to your branding work, so being efficient and finding the right tools will determine whether your efforts succeed or not.
There are great tools to help you save time and make it easier to get your brand out. And many of these tools are free.
The first step of your daily routine should be to get an update on the news in your market segment. You want a complete update, in as little time as possible. It is easy to spend way too much time on this, so let””””s focus:
- Let's turn off television's morning news, you waste at least 40% of your time on commercials, and the rest is so general and void of content as to be useless.
- The newspaper is not that great also. Even if you find something there that you can respond to, it is hard to link to it. And chances are that most of what you read was already in the online version yesterday.
- You have access to the same information as your local news station, it is on the real-time web.
The major news in politics, business and finance is generally released by the major news channels. For the rest, original content is generated on blogs by subject experts (you want to be one of those over time). Of all the material that is published, what is relevant usually becomes evident in minutes by the amount of response it gets on Twitter and Facebook and – soon after that – by the number of blog entries created on the topic.
So the game is to discover all that news before breakfast (and do that every day) and make your plan about what you””””ll use to add your viewpoints to. The tool you want needs to present you all the relevant news in one place, make it easy to scan and bookmark it for further work.
Such tools are called “feed readers”, “RSS readers” or “aggregators”.
The websites that contain the information you are interested in, generally make it available in a format called an “RSS feed”. They have an orange icon like this, and clicking it will give you instructions on how to subscribe to it.
And you can aggregate the RSS feeds you subscribe to with an RSS reader into one page which is organized to let you scan it fast, keep what you want to keep and discard the rest. It is your personalized newspaper online, just much more convenient.
There are many RSS readers (see here for a list), but unless you have very special needs, you can make the safe choice: use Google Reader. It is very feature complete, it is constantly being improved and it has excellent documentation.
To start using Google Reader, you have to have a GMail email address. As you will see later in this series, you should get a gmail address for many more reasons, so if you do not have it yet, get one *now*.
If possible, get an email address that resembles your name (like email@example.com or something close to that), because that will be helpful to your personal branding efforts.
Once you have your gmail account, the menu along the top will show you an option to go to Google Reader.
The first step is to add subscriptions. You probably already have a list of websites and blogs that you read regularly because they provide the most valuable information on the topics that you want to keep track off. Check each off these sites for the RSS Feed button and click it – usually that provides steps to add them to your Google Reader. If not, copy the URL of the feed, and then use the “Add A Subscription” link in Google Reader to add it to your list (see “Subscribing” for a detailed description of all the options).
It may take a few weeks of adding and subtracting feeds until you feel you have just the right set to make you comfortable that you have found the right balance between quality and quantity. As a general rule, you should be able to process all the news and postings in about 30 minutes and at the end not feel the need to go other sites to get ””””the rest of the news””””.
Apart from keeping track of websites and blogs, Google Reader can also be set up to track Twitter messages. You can define a detailed search on Twitter and then subscribe to the RSS feed of the results – that way Reader will track the latest tweets on your topic and enable you to process them in the same way as any blog entry (see the next paragraph). One way to find the topics that are most significant is to include “RT” in your search criteria, giving you only tweets that were retweeted (and therefore more authoritative). Or you can track just the tweets from certain persons. Another option is to work with the channels at Tweetmeme, in which you can define search criteria (once you are logged in). The results pages of these searches also come with an RSS feed, so Google Reader can keep track of tweets meeting your criteria.
Now that you have your subscriptions in place, lets see how you work with Google Reader:
In the left sidebar you can see that there are 45 unread items. In the right column these items are listed. Working down the list of items will change them from “unread” to “read” and they will disappear from your view. But before they do you can take any of these actions, simply by clicking the little icons along the bottom of the item:
- Add Star. I use this to mark the entries that I want to use for anything I want to write about later. When you are done reading, you can return to the starred items and refer to them for your own postings.
- Like. This is valuable to teach Google Reader what is interesting to you. You will be able to sort your items “by magic” as Reader calls it, but that uses what it has learned from the items you liked.
- Share. This lets you copy these entries to a URL where your friends or the public can see the items that you thought were interesting. I have a page like that at http://www.google.com/reader/shared/mdevisser.
- Share with note. This is the same as the previous one, but lets you add a note that explains why you share it.
- Email. Lets you send the item by email to anyone you think who needs to read it.
- Add tags. Adding tags lets you organize the entries so you can find them back easier. You can also set up Reader to share items with certain tags with friends or public.
- Send to. This lets you send the item to other services such as Twitter, Facebook or FriendFeed.
Scanning the news with Google Reader is fast and efficient this way. You'll see the news item, in most cases you'll just pass to the next one (and let Reader mark it as read for you), or you take any of the 7 steps above. When you are done, you have seen all the relevant news, you have shared the best items with friends or have sent it to them by email, you have Twittered about some of the news items, and you have a list of starred items to use for that great blog entry that you are about to write.
You're done with the first step of your daily routine, time to go downstairs for breakfast.