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As The Hopkinson Report marches toward its 50th episode, I take a moment to reflect on a few quick topics: SXSW, defining your niche, Twitter, and 2 podcasters that have influenced me.

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WHAT TO EXPECT AT SXSW
Ironically, I wanted to go to SXSW – the music festival – a few years ago when I was in a band. But that side passion for music was overridden by my primary passion at the time, sports, which also happened to be my career. And for those sports fans out there, you know a little thing called ESPN’s Tourney Challenge, or March Madness pool, that was taking up my time the same week. Aw, who am I kidding, there was also an industry conference in Vegas that time of year that I had to attend.

And so now I’ve traded in the Vegas strip for what has been called Spring Break for the Internet, SXSW Interactive. This is my first time going, and from what I’ve heard and read, I think I have a pretty good bead on what’s in store.

Here’s what I’m expecting.
1. Lots of networking. My re-order of business cards is in the mail.
2. Lots of panels. Some good, some bad.
3. Lots of parties. Very crowded parties.

sxsw party

Here are my goals.
1. First and foremost, I am there to absorb as much information as possible that will help me do my job at Wired. Sending people to conferences in sunny locations is not priority 1 when budgets are being cut, but I feel this is a ‘must attend’ event.

I always approach conferences not with the aim of changing the world, but taking that 1 or 2 key ideas from each panel I attend or person I meet that can make a difference. It’s also is a chance to get me out of the microcosm of Wired New York City, and get a bigger picture view of companies and trends across the country.

2. Throw a fun party. Wired is hosting a Happy Hour at the Moonshine Grill on Monday March 16 from 4-6pm, and yours truly will be the host. We’re keeping it somewhat low-key as an unofficial party, but the word is spreading fast. We’ll be giving away a free, Wired-engraved iPod touch every 30 minutes to promote our Wired iPhone Application in our Twitter Twivia contest, and will also have free swag from our friends at Ars Technica and reddit.

3. I want to get the word out about TheHopkinsonReport blog and podcast.

4. Enjoy the change of pace. While I don’t consider this a vacation, the networking, parties, and events – not to mention nicer weather – will be welcome after a long Northeast winter.

5. Lastly, I want to see Twitter in action. Not people sitting by themselves at their computer, but thousands of people in the same area using twitter to its fullest potential.

USING YOUR BLOG’S CATEGORIES TO DEFINE YOUR NICHE
You know, I talk a lot about marketing and branding and finding your niche. But once in awhile, you have to turn the spotlight on yourself. So many people ask, what is YOUR niche? What are YOU trying to do with TheHopkinsonReport?

It’s a tough question because a lot of times what I recommend to people that are just getting started blogging or podcasting or any kind of project like a book or a screenplay, is just to start doing it. You can try and pre-plan everything from the url to the logo and make sure everything is picture perfect from day one, but that can take months. The best thing to do sometimes is just to simply start cranking out content, figure it out along the way, and then look back after a period of time and see what you’ve got. And that’s exactly what I did.

For me, what has emerged lately, both with my podcast and with projects at work, is what can be known as a “deep dive.” From my very first month at Wired, I distinguished myself not by writing up a short email listing Wired’s uniques and page views for the last 30 days, but by creating an incredibly detailed snapshot of the Wired user and what they were doing on the site.

Any decent marketer can create a graph in Excel that shows whether page views are increasing or decreasing month to month. What’s valuable to your edit team and your sales team, are the underlying case studies and trends that are motivating readers.

The same has been true for this show. My schedule for almost the past year has been to do a single podcast per week, and to post that same content on my blog. I’ve thought many times that I could gain more traffic and search engine credibility by interlacing my weekly longer blog posts with additional shorter commentary, but I felt that would dilute my message and not play to my strengths.

Interestingly, the perfect solution that ended up coming along was Twitter. Now I can use my blog and podcast for a weekly deep dive into a particular topic, while updating quick thoughts via Twitter in just a few sentences. So please follow me at twitter.com/hopkinsonreport.

So what is a deep dive in my case? I mapped out what my word count has been for a handful of recent posts. In the past month, my discussions on Infopreneurs, the Amazon Kindle, Netbooks, and Revenue Models for the iPhone have averaged over 1,600 words. 1,600!

I should have known I was in trouble when I did a 2,200 word podcast on Japanese toilets, or when I showed Wired editor Michael Calore my post titled “How to turn your girlfriend into a football fanatic in 10 easy steps.” He said, “That’s a great article, but I have to tell you, those steps certainly aren’t easy.” The word count for that baby? 3,374.

Contrast with the average Wired blog post, which runs just a few hundred words, or up to 1,000 for longer features, and you see what I mean.

To help you define your strengths, it’s helpful to use categories and tags from your previous blog posts to see if a trend emerges.

In looking back at my category breakdown, the majority, or 60%, fall under the topics of:
– Marketing Case Studies
– Branding/Advertising
– Social Networking and New Media
– Pop Culture/Entertainment

These are my core strengths.

How do I cover these topics?
– 20% of the time, I’m infusing my personality, weaving in stories about topics I’m passionate about, from the iPhone and New York City to cars and Japan
– 13% of the time, I cover the companies at the center of technology and social media: Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter
– 7% of the time, I interview people that are leaders in these fields

So if you complete this exercise, you should be able to string together a sentence or two that defines what niche you’re going after.

In my case, if my 2 second sound bite is that I cover “The marketing trends that matter,” then my 30 second elevator pitch would be something like “The Hopkinson Report is a weekly blog and podcast that takes a “deep dive” case study look into marketing trends, branding, social networking, and new media. Jim’s entertaining, fast-paced, passionate views mix personal stories and pop culture references while covering both established high tech companies and interviewing leaders that are driving the growth of the digital age.”

THE FOUR PHASES OF TWITTER
What can I say? For me, it happened in 4 phases.
Exploration: I signed up back in October to find out what this was all about. I wanted to do a podcast, but I didn’t quite have enough to talk about. I was using it to update my Facebook status, and gathering information.HopkinsonReport on Twitter

Growth: On January 12th I had about 65 followers, and started making an effort to actively use it. Two weeks later I had doubled to 130 followers. In three more weeks, I doubled again to over 250. And three weeks after that, I had doubled again to over 500. I’m not bragging as the top users have tens of thousands, but I’m on my way.

Usage: Over the past few weeks Twitter has gone from being the new toy to play with to a useful tool. I’ve driven traffic to my blog, gleaned some great info from users, and set up interviews in Texas.

Evangelist: Now I have too much information coming at me at once. A few weeks ago I did one of my patented deep dives, explaining what the technology was and citing 7 case studies as to how businesses are using twitter. But even as I’m spreading the word within my company and amongst my friends, every single day brings a new way to tweet, a new way to track users, a new way to search, companies looking to try and make money, extensive tutorials, now the spammers are out there, and cool new ways people are using the service crop up daily. Make it stop!

It remains to be seen if the final phase is a full embrace, or burnout. I plan on doing an entire podcast just on Twitter in the future.

BILL SIMMONS AND ADAM CAROLLA
Finally, I want to take a few minutes to talk about two podcast pioneers.Bill Simmons ESPN

The first is Bill Simmons, also known as The Sports Guy from ESPN, and we have a lot in common. We were born in the same year and grew up in the 80s, living and dying with Boston sports teams. All you need to know is that in a two year span in my impressionable high school years, in between re-watching Rocky movies on cable and listening to The Joshua Tree, Larry Bird led the Celtics to their 3rd title in my lifetime, the Bruins made it to the Stanley Cup and lost, the Patriots got crushed by the Bears in the Super Bowl, and the ball rolled through Bill Buckner’s legs.

[Note: At this point in the podcast, I go on an uncontrollable Bill Buckner rant]

Anyway, somehow we both survived the trauma, and we both ended up getting a dream job doing what we love in the sports industry, and in an era when texting has replaced calling, commercials are skipped, 30 seconds on YouTube is too long and 140 characters is just write, we try to crank out compelling, funny, meaningful content and don’t care about how long it takes.

My favorite story from him was that when he was looking to become a journalist, he looked at Boston Globe sportswriters like Peter Gammons and Leigh Montville. Gammons was there for 17 years and Montville for 21, and he realized two things.

1) Those guys were never going to leave.

2) While their writing was fantastic, they didn’t write about sports the way Bill and his buddies talked about sports when they were at a bar drinking a beer.

So he set out to become that type of writer, and now he has one of the longer-running, more successful podcasts on the internet.Adam Carolla has a new podcast

Which brings me to Adam Carolla, previously of The Man Show and Loveline, and we have a lot in common. He likes to talk a lot and gets really fired up about any topic that he’s passionate about, which usually covers football, movies, pop culture, and sports cars.

Most recently, the radio station he worked for as a morning host changed format and he was laid off. But what most impressed me was the way he handled it. He passionately ranted for a long time about embracing change, urging people to look at the major changes in their life, from being dumped by your dream girl or losing your job or moving. It seemed terrible at the time, but it’s almost always a good thing.

So, still wanting to be able to express his opinions – but without the watchful eyes of the FCC or a program director — he decided to start a podcast. From his house. For free. Kinda like me.

And a funny thing happened. He had over 500,000 downloads from one of the first few podcasts he did, and topped over 1.5 million in his first week, putting him at the number one slot on iTunes.

The quote that I remembered was “The minute you start thinking ‘what do other people want to hear’ as opposed to ‘what do I have to say,’ you are screwing up the artistic process.”

So if there’s a project out there that you’ve been meaning to do, please just go for it. And make sure to reach out to other bloggers, other podcasters, and let them know when they’re doing a good job.

A lot that happens in life and work and social media is all about networking and karma. So I’m here to say to the thousands of listeners that have heard my show, is that if you like listening to my podcast, and especially if you’re into comedy or sports, then you should check out the Adam Carolla podcast and the Bill Simmons podcast.

Look, I’ll make it easy. Kill 2 birds with 1 stone and listen to Bill Simmons as a guest on Adam Carolla’s podcast.

[Click here]

And what I’m hoping will happen in return, is that the hundreds of thousands of listeners of their shows, say, if you like Adam and Bill, but are looking for the underlying topic to be about marketing and technology and social media, then check out TheHopkinsonReport.

Thanks

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