Walking The Walk For Credibility & Personal Brand

by Mike Levin SEO & Datamaster, 03/09/2012

[caption id=”” align=”alignright” width=”300” caption=”Image via Wikipedia”]English: Martha Stewart at the 2010 Time 100.[/caption]

Every day has a story to tell. Sometimes you know what you WANT to make that story at the beginning of the day, and sometimes the day takes on a life of its own, and starts to write its own story. I am now responsible for getting the correct date to come up for my employer’s website. I committed to this in front of a group at a management meeting this morning, and accurate addresses are undeniably at the intersection of old-school SEO and the newer feed-driven API world… and the synthesis of the two in the form of HTML5-standard microdata.

I could run off with a post like this and dive deep into all the places the above paragraph leads me. But I must resist. Before any deep dives occur today, I have to use my daily journal for what it’s with. Step back, and take inventory of the day, the expectations that are on you, deadlines, priorities, and generally how you look to people. Why do I work this way? I am a knowledge-worker in an information economy. What is of value to my employer is the unique things I have to contribute that cannot be gotten just anywhere else. The mission in today’s world is to become an irreplaceable personal brand, for whose alignment corporate entities compete.

Yep, that’s pretty much it. And to that end, the quality of my thinking just has to be superior to other people in my industry in general, and to that end, I need to think out loud a lot in the form of my daily journal, which I “sanitize” real-time as I write, so that there is not much need for editing. It is intended to be a stream-of-consciousness thing, with all the rough edges and all. This may someday be mined and cleaned up for some other publication that distills it down to the essence and a finished product, but maybe not. It just may end up being some electronic bits that bear wittiness to my existence for future generations—as if anyone will care, unless I do something big.

Okay, and that gets to the simultaneous objectives I am balancing with this journal. Primarily, I am satisfying the clients of my employer, which mostly means stepping in to disseminate brilliant solutions when necessary. It’s like an IT person sitting around for the machines to break, and so long as nothing goes wrong, it appears like you’re being lazy. But really the machines not breaking means exactly the opposite—you’re doing your job competently, and you actually being around is a form of an insurance policy, because the things that could go wrong now that all the appropriate precautions have been taken could be really disastrous.

I view myself somewhat in this light. That’s how I NEED to work in order to make the time available to do the things that are important, but not urgent to the org or clients—the type of work that in the end, makes all the difference. So I have to cover for that time during which the traditional SEO Director would be quality-assuring his/her team’s work, creating best practice documents, policies, PowerPoints, blah, blah, blah.

Needless to say, I’m not a big fan of much of what’s traditionally held in high esteem in my career. I’m sort of a walk-the-walk guy, before I’ll ever talk-the-talk. I feel that one should not need to peacock if ones work is sufficiently dazzling. Mind-numbing PowerPoint decks are just distractions… crutches… things to cover for the fact that you’re not the one who has the job performing the work—or better still, doing it entrepreneurially for yourself.

You have to continually survey the landscape in SEO, and contrary to popular belief, that doesn’t mean scouring the forums and blogs to regurgitate other peoples’ opinions. It means having some skin in the game and doing stuff for yourself that you’re passionate about, and which also produces analogies to what’s important for my employer’s clients. The implementation of a Q&A section to my personal site is a quintessential example. You have to have opinions because you “just did” something like that.

So, it’s not really SEO I’m passionate about. It’s… Well, I guess it’s story telling and performance art and using tools in ways people hadn’t thought to use them before. It’s a rather abstract passion, but it’s pretty much reflected in all my interests over the years. There was a time I wanted to be a pro magician, comic book artist, and moon-base engineer. There’s no point doing a thing of there’s not an audience to ooooh and aaaaah.

My first professional employer out of college was my audience, and my act was dragging them kicking and screaming to profitability (truer than you know). SEO was just one of the vast array of things I did. The Web was new, and I identified it as a lead-source. But I wrote all of their operational software, and could have just as easily ended up an operations person. Based on that, I walked into a Vice President job in NYC (out of the Philly ‘burbs), and that was the first time I was a professional SEO. But if you haven’t done something, then “who are you?” So, I did HitTail.

The web bug was magical. It’s the trick that let’s all analytics software see where you are surfing in from. And if that happens to be a search engine, it also told you the keywords they used, and how many pages in they clicked before finding and clicking on your search engine result. Wow! There were some dots that needed to be connected, and I did. So at least now, I’m the guy who made HitTail, a keyword suggestion tool that tells you what to write about, with the foregone conclusion that it will incrementally add new search traffic to your site.

But we’re in a new age. The web bug is under attack by Google having found a technique and thinly veiled premise for not passing on that data to site owners (without going through THEIR tools). Plus, I’m just tired of being on the hook to administrate 24x7 servers that have to keep running, least you effect the page load times of tens of thousands of sites. What’s interesting to me today is clouds and micro-servers and Linux and Python and the education of my child. Plus, I want to put on that show and develop a personal brand that will always keep me in-demand.

And so, that’s the story for today. Meetings and emails and questions kept me from diving into the zone and getting some real work done. But in my scraps of time and the subway ride home, I was able to articulate these thoughts. Tomorrow, I urgently have to check a few items off that todo list. But my vision is getting increasingly clear about how everything fits together—how my story gets coerced and strong-armed into shape, day-by-day, thought-by-thought,  journal entry-by-Journal entry.

To hit this home, today’s story is the affirmation that I’m working on personal brand. I have no delusions of becoming an Opera or Martha Stewart—and that’s what serves my employer best too. But the field of SEO is in transition, undeniably more so than the many times in the past that SEO was declared dead. In place of the Webmaster controlled invisible-hand link graph that Google holds so dear is a visible-hand social graph, with the large nodes on the social trees being influential individuals, celebrities, and the like.

So, if you’re not a celebrity, then you better do something big in your field, and become the recipient of all that social affirmation. As for me, I actually do have something special to offer the world. After long consideration and experimentation, I’ve finally got my “new HitTail”—a new thing to become known-for. I will be able to take guide anyone on their journey to becoming a Linux geek, even from a Mac or PC, facilitated by an obsolescence-proof virtual computer. Your work will be persistent. Your language will be Python. Your learnings will be generic IT-plumbing (no graphics). Yet, it will be useful right away, in the real world—especially to SEOs and social media mavens.

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