Chatting with Beth Kanter – CEO of Zoetica

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This is her introduction.

Haegwan Kim (HK); As my interview is on the law of success, can I ask your definition of success?

Beth Kanter (BK); That’s a really good question. I look at success as when I’m learning something and getting better and improving, and that doesn’t always mean that I might not initially get great results for something but eventually I will if I approach it as that I can learn something about how to do it better. That’s the spirit that I brought to blogging and to doing social media and to teaching and to all the stuff I do.

HK; Why did you start blogging?

BK; I’ve actually been blogging since 2000, if you can believe that, by hand and coded HTML. So, I’ve been doing web stuff for a really long time, like 1992, and I actually, back then, had something that was like a blog but I had a site called Spider School and I would post a daily link with two sentences about it and that’s when the web was just getting started. I started my bloggings on a technology trader with non profits and I was working with a lot of different clients and writing helped me learn and I was just keeping the blog for my own notes, but then the clients would ask me, you went through all this different resources, and so then I would send them the link to the blog posts where I mentioned the resources and then people started reading the blog – that’s how I got started.

HK; It’s past a decade since you started the blog. What happened in the ten years and what will happen in the next ten years?

BK; Well, in the ten years it’s always been that I never looked at blogging as a way to do marketing, I always looked at it as a way to learn because I have to write and think about stuff to learn stuff, so I made this commitment to do it every day of the week, almost every day, at least during the weekdays and I made this commitment. I didn’t care if anyone read it or not initially and I was actually really shocked when I got comments and that people were reading it, and I didn’t even look at my subscriber numbers and then one day somebody told me you can see your subscriber numbers, your RSS subscribers, and I looked at it and it was like a 1,000 people and I was shocked. It’s like, there’s a 1,000 people that want to read this? And so I just kept on doing it, and so it’s about learning, it’s about sharing, it’s about public learning with other people, it’s about connecting people.

The next ten years? Well, when I moved my blog to the new platform I wanted to make a commitment to improving my writing. I went back to my early blog posts and they were just like three or four sentences, and sometimes they got longer they would be just like notes, it wasn’t anything written but linking to people and conversations. And now I’ve evolved to this, I want to give better at writing more practical information; I want to write more succinctly, I want to write in a style where it’s a little bit more organised.

HK; You are focusing on non-profit works rather than earning money on the web, can I ask reason for that?

BK; Well, I give all my content away for free because I’m blogging, but it has brought me a lot of work. So, working with non profits or have a mission of doing charity or doing social good work – I’m a consultant and my blog has been my main source of getting work.

HK; Then money doesn’t deal with your success?

BK; I don’t use money as a metric for success, I use happiness. I never set a goal that I want to make a lot of money, my whole goal in the work I do, I want to feel happy and passionate and just really like what I’m doing and I happen to get paid for it. I don’t want to have to find that on the side.

HK; The social media is now becoming more and more powerful. Can you tell me how we can make the most of the social media today?

BK; Well, I think it’s really powerful, the person to person connection, I’m thinking about an organisation that I came across in India – I was teaching there a couple of months ago – it was called Pratham Books and it’s a small non profit and their mission is to get high quality children’s books to children in rural areas in India so they can learn how to read and improve their lives, and they use social media – they have a blog, they use Twitter, Facebook, etc. I guess we pointed to a story that was published in a newspaper about some teenagers who were collecting used books and went out to a rural village in India to give the kids the books there on this thing, this little book cart, it was actually cute – I forget the Indian word for it. And they posted and somebody came along and said, this is really great, I will donate some money for you to purchase some more books to have those kids distribute to those kids in that rural village. So, they went to the newspaper and they said, do you know the names of the kids and their phone numbers; we’d like to contact them, and the newspaper didn’t know them, so they started tweeting.

Now, a couple of their board members were tweeting and it got re-tweeted and then, within a couple of hours, they got the names and phone numbers of the kids. And, so I just think that it’s just a simple way of using it, and then they went back to the donor and got the money for the books so, to me, that just shows the power of this.

HK; I presume you have two life – online and offline. Can you tell me how to switch on and off your life on the web?

BK; I need to do a better job at that, because we have our cell phones, we have our smart phones and then I could always be standing in the grocery store in line and looking at Twitter, and there is an aspect of it being somewhat of an addiction in a way. So, I try to turn off the computer and I try to go for walks and I try not to be online too much. I do have a family, I do have a life outside of that and when we live our lives online I share stuff but I don’t share everything – I don’t like to over share.

HK; Can you tell me how we can make a positive impact on our society? You have already achieved many success in terms of raising money and so on.

BK; It starts with making real good relationships first, without asking for money first. You can’t just go with your hand out and that’s a mistake that a lot of organisations make, that they think they can just go online, go on Facebook, and start asking for money, but you have to build a relationship first, you have to build your network before you need it.

HK; Can I ask how we can build that kind of relationship well? It’s quite difficult to do in virtual world…

BK; Yes, I was just at training today with a group of non profits and they said that they ignited their super fans and they said it became obvious who their fans were. Once the fans just became visible to them and I said, well, how? So, those are the people on Facebook who are liking stuff and they’re commenting and so the next step – once we start to notice that, we start to connect with them one on one, we call them on the phone, and we said we wanted them to actually take our message around what we’re doing to other people on Facebook. So, it’s all this kind of one by one relationship building.

HK; So the beginning is one on one?

BK; Right, and first you don’t want to do that with everybody, you want to play on the people who are most passionate around your case and have influence with other people.

HK; Now you have thousands of relationships…

BK; Well, that doesn’t scale very well. So, I actually wrote a post about this: Following the Few to get to the Many on Twitter, and I tend to follow people I interested in different topics because I want to use the information to write about it. So, I try to find the mayors, if you will, people who people respect in different topic areas or different online communities, and that’s who I follow and who I try to build a relationship with. And those might not be people with big followings and may not be internet celebrities – they’re just people.

HK; Was there any disadvantage for you because you’re female?

BK; No.

HK; At all?

BK; Well, sometimes at conferences and stuff; sometimes they don’t have enough women on the tech panels and then sometimes they get on panels where it’s all men and they like to talk too much and they interrupt.

HK; Hahaha. Do you think social media makes us a more equal society?

BK; It should, but if we take a look at who’s online, it’s not necessarily an equal society – cell phones are a little bit more democratic.

HK; Can I have your advice to be successful in general life?

BK; Well, follow your passion, know yourself, know what you want to do, know when something’s not right and be willing to let that go, have the courage to say no – which I need to get better at myself – saying yes doesn’t always lead to success, and saying no isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

HK; Can that saying apply for both online and offline life?

BK; Yes, if I can link this back to the internet and social media – we have so many choices, so many things that we can do with social media. It opens up this huge abundance of connections to people, ideas, things that we can do, and there’s only 24 hours in a day, there’s only so much time you can spend, so you have to know how to make choices. That’s what – especially younger people who are living in this age of it being un-limitless – in my age we had limits because I remember that I could get on the internet back in 1992, before the web came by. I could actually sit down on a Saturday afternoon with a bottle of beer and browse the entire internet. You can’t do that, if you had 20 years you couldn’t do that, right? So, I had this sense of browsing the internet, being on the internet, and having whole completion of something. You can’t do that, so now you have to accept that life with online is in a stream and you have to let it stream by and you have to self indulge your own limits. So, whether or not that’s timeboxing. Do you know what timeboxing is?

HK: Yep.

BK; Because the internet is so open-ended, I’ll only do this on Facebook for half an hour and accomplish these things and then move on to my next task. So, learning to set our own limits for ourselves in the way that we work and being able to say, I’m done.

HK; Thank you so much for your time.

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