I have not always been in the best of health. I thought that it was just hereditary since my mom has a lot of issues too, but I found out that it was just bad habits being passed down to me rather than something genetic. I was eating the wrong foods, and that is why my stomach was always hurting. I found this out when I started drinking Shakeology shakes after reading some Shakeology reviews. I had been on an online forum about gastric issues, and some of the women there told me they were experiencing fewer digestive problems after starting a regular regime of drinking Shakeology.
Living in the Silicon Valley there are always events to attend. It’s not unusual to spend a day or two a month at a developer’s conference, networking event or a social media marketing summit of some kind. I recently broke my own personal record and attended three conferences in the span of six days. I presented and sat on a panel at the SocialBizWorld conference, attended BizTechDay and then the PayPal X developers conference.
Attending those great events over the last week inspired me to share few ways to use social media to spice up your own events. Read on for the goods.
Spread the Word
All three of the events used the web and social media as the cornerstone to their marketing efforts. All relied heavily upon Twitter as a communications channel. Each also used a core website with event details, links to external social channels, and a blog.
The blogs were primarily used to communicate up-to-date event details and important additions to the sponsors or speakers list. The BizTechDay team used video content from their previous events as a way to grab the attention of potential attendees. They featured it on their blog and linked to it in their email newsletters and Twitter feed leading up to the event.
How to Spread the Word:
1. Choose a Twitter hashtag to associate with your event & create Twitter ammo for your team.
As soon as you have a name for your event and details posted online you should create a Twitter hashtag. Examples of hashtags used at the events I recently attended were #sbworld (SocialBizWorld), #xinnovate (PayPal X), and #biztech (BizTechDay). Each was used leading up to and during the event. Go here to learn more about Twitter hashtags. Each week as the event draws closer, write a list of 3-5 pre-written tweets (Twitter posts) to provide your marketing team, sponsors, & speakers. This will make it super simple for them to help you spread the word to their own Twitter followers and gives you the opportunity to somewhat shape the messaging around your event. You would be amazed how more tweets people will share when given a list to start with. All tweets should include your event hashtag and a link to information about the event.
2. Use content from your previous events to drive visitors to your event website or blog.
Providing video of a great keynote, embedding a slide deck (via slideshare) from a previous presenter, or posting recorded audio of a panel gives you high value fodder. Link to it on Twitter, Facebook, and other marketing channels like your email newsletter to drive traffic to your event site.
3. Know your audience and consider traditional marketing channels to get butts in seats.
If your target audience is new to social media then using Twitter, Facebook, and other networks to get the word out may be much less effective. Consider marketing your event via local business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce or marketing associations. They often have email and print newsletters as well as event calendars. Also don’t discount traditional marketing like newspapers and radio.
Use the Social Back-Channel
The team at the PayPal X conference really did what they could encourage their attendees to participate in the social back-channel throughout the event. They went as far as to commission a developer to create a branded mobile app to be used during the event. In addition to the general conference information such as the speakers and overall agenda, the app allowed you to checkin (ala Foursquare) at different places around the event. Whenever I dipped into one of the many sessions I would open up the app and checkin to get credit for attending. By the end of the day I could view my standings on the app’s leader board and compare it to my friends who also attended. A bit geeky, but some added fun nonetheless.
Twitter has become the default companion medium at conferences. All of the conferences I attended utilized Twitter hashtags as a way for attendees to discuss and share tidbits about the speakers, sessions, and announcements.
While participating on the SocialBizWorld panel I recall a question from the audience about hashtags (mentioned previously in this post). The panelists spent the better part of a few minutes explaining the concept to the audience that compromised of mostly folks who were new to social media.
On the other hand, the PayPal crew dedicated a couple minutes during their initial keynote letting the everyone know what hashtag to use during the event and encouraging them to tweet. They also displayed the live Twitter stream on a half dozen or so flat screen monitors posted around the event floor. Adding to the discussions generated by the attendees were all of the folks from around the world that watched the keynotes and panels on live via a streaming video feed. The social back-channel provided some of the best commentary on everything happening at the event, but never interrupted what was happening on center stage.
How to leverage the back-channel:
4. Use a LBS (location based service) like Foursquare to create a place for people to checkin at your event.
Rather than allow attendees to checkin at the hotel or convention center where you are hosting your event, create a location named specifically after your event at that location for attendees who want to checkin. For example, here is the PayPal X conference location. To add your own venue on Foursquare you need to visit http://foursquare.com/add_venue. Beyond branding your event a little bit for the LBS savvy folks (over 3 million users on Foursquare alone) it will also help them discover friends who are also attending. Don’t forget that checkins on most services are also commonly cross posted on Facebook and Twitter as well.
5. To drive the back-channel conversation during your event then use a service like Socialping.com to track and display all tweets with your event hashtag.
Hook up a dedicated laptop to a projector to display the conversation to attendees. Social ping also lets you add a leader board to their “Tweet Wall” which shows who has been tweeting the most at your event at any given moment. People love to see their own tweets scroll by on the screen. Depending on your event you may see only a trickle of comments in the back-channel or a raging flood. In either case, be aware that it may contain some of the richest discussions and feedback at your event. You might also check out quick and dirty options for displaying your Twitter feed like VisibleTweets.com.
6. To expand your audience use a video streaming service like Ustream.tv to share all or selective portions of your event live with folks who could not attend in person.
All you need to get started is a compatible video camera to tether to your laptop (find a list of recommended cameras here) and a relatively reliable internet connection. Many of the larger conferences invest quite a bit into live streaming their events, using multiple high end cameras, video switchers and a dedicated internet connection to make it almost like a live television broadcast. By planning ahead you can increase the exposure of your sponsors, speakers and event organizers without breaking any fire codes. Broadcast only selective parts of your event if you feel your giving away too much to folks who did not pay to attend. It is not uncommon to see many of the large event organizers live stream all of their major sessions as they happen. They understand that attendees miss out on networking opportunities and other things that happen between the presenters.
Generate & Repurpose Content
Conferences like these almost always produce a ton of user-generated content. You could rely only on your attendees to capture and share bits at your event, but I recommend having a plan of your own. The previously mentioned Ustream.tv has a nifty feature that captures the video while you live stream it so people can watch it on demand later. It also lets you upload your pre-recorded video to YouTube.
There were at least eight different concurrent sessions at the PayPal X conference — far more than I could ever attend during the tw0-day event. Luckily they are posting all the sessions in their entirety on their developer website here (login with your PayPal account to view). At SocialBizWorld they did not live stream the event, but they did have roving videographers traveling throughout the workshop sessions capturing videos and photos as they happened. I would imagine they will find a use for that content to market next year’s event.
How to repurpose great content:
7. Whether it is streamed live or recorded for later, capture as much video of your event as possible.
Raw video can be edited and used in numerous ways to help extend the life of your event even after the attendees go home. You can create a short video clip highlighting the best parts of the event or do like the BizTechDay team did with this Seth Godin video and drive traffic back to your site to view videos sessions past. Consider creating a few 1 minute highlight reels targeting not only potential attendees, but also sponsors. I suggest branding the video with your logo in the corner of the video and maybe even a URL at the end to direct viewers to the source of the content, you!
8. Hire a photographer (or a few if your event is large) and have them roam the event capturing moments.
High profile keynote speakers and attendees enjoying themselves are great visuals to immortalize in photos. Among the many ways you can repurpose those images you can post them on your organization’s Flickr account. This helps make the photos easily available to news media and bloggers covering your event. Here is an example of a collection of photos snapped at the TEDSoMa event by my friend Michael O’Donnel from ZatPhoto. A great set pf event photos like this would be even better if each photo included the name of the speaker, event name and link back to the event site in the photo description. Although I have not tested it, I have been told in the past that Flickr tags and descriptions are search engine sensitive.
9. Bring the viewers to your site to get the good stuff. Both Ustream and Youtube provide embed codes that you can copy and paste into any webpage. Instead of linking to the site where you uploaded the video why not use those codes to embed video from your event into your blog or website to drive inbound traffic? There is an increased chance that viewers will check out other content on your site and possibly sign up to be notified about your next event (that is, if you have a way for them to give you their email address). With a couple clicks your visitors can also share the video with others in their social networks. Embedding a variety of great content into your site is a good way to attract visitors. Slideshare, Youtube, Flickr and many other sites provide embed codes for content that you might host there. Use them to your advantage!
10 For an added bonus, use a tool like Storify.com to piece together social media content from around the web to tell the story about your event.
Storify is a great tool for gathering tweets, photos, videos, and more into a narrative which can be embedded into your website and shared via your social networks. See how I used Storify on a previous blog post here.
These are a few of my tips for hosting a more successful and engaging event. Did you attend a conference lately and see anything interesting that made it more engaging? Share your experience and your own tips in the comments.
WordPress Hosting is a tricky business and finding an impartial Bluehost review is even more difficult. I’ve never been employed at a web host but I do have a lot of background working with systems that need to be online and available all the time. It’s hard enough when you have complete control over your environment, so throwing millions of sites into the mix that take full advantages of all the resources you have to offer can be a real strain, and can make being the best WordPress hosting company an extremely lofty goal. I understand all of that completely. Hosting ain’t no kids game.
I’ve talked about WordPress hosting reviews at length before, and I want to bring that same topic up again, but this time in a very specific context. After years of WordPress.org endorsing Bluehost, I believe it’s time they stop.
This is actually tough for me to write because I know people personally who work at Bluehost and this no fault of theirs. Many great techs and developers have no control over business decisions that have been hurting Bluehost’s reputation. They do their best to provide a great service, but they’re playing against a stacked deck and their service, performance, and uptime have tanked over the last year.
Things have gotten so bad that WPMU just awarded Bluehost with a wooden spoon for being the bottom feeder in an unbiased review of 5 different web hosts. Now I don’t know about you, but winning a wooden spoon doesn’t sound like a very awesome prize for a company that should be leading in a high tech industry. Maybe a Blendtec would be a better modern-day kitchen-inspired prize? I digress.
Unfortunately our experience with Bluehost over the past 6-9 months has been similar to what was represented in the WPMU post. Slower servers, poor technical support, and more frequent outages have become the norm, and not the exception.
And even after all of this, Bluehost still has a glowing endorsement from WordPress.org. Granted, this hosting recommendations page hasn’t changed in years, but that’s all the more reason to take time and carefully review who’s listed there. That’s what ended up happening with the theme and plugin marketplaces, right? Why not hosting?
A Missed Opportunity for a More Honest Bluehost Review from WordPress.org:
We’ve dealt with more hosts than you can imagine; in our opinion, the hosts below represent some of the best and brightest of the hosting world. If you do decide to go with one of the hosts below and click through from this page, some will donate a portion of your fee back—so you can have a great host and support WordPress.org at the same time.
So what’s WordPress.org’s motivation to continue to endorse Bluehost without at least providing users with a frank review of their services? Is it the good affiliate program that helps support the operation of the site and the community? Is it Bluehost’s frequent high-level sponsorship of WordCamps? Or is it simply a gentleman’s handshake that continues to stand?
It’s probably a combination of all three. I honestly have no problem with WordPress listing a host on the .org site with an affiliate link. It takes money to power an open source community like this one. Probably way more than I even know. The bigger issue to me is that they outright say that Bluehost is the “best and brightest of the hosting world” and unfortunately that’s no longer the case. I hope Bluehost does get things figured out, but until then, the WordPress foundation should probably ease off on the leg humping.
I’d honestly much rather see companies pay for space on the .org site than have new users getting bad recommendations. At least if .org was selling the space for $25,000 a month, everyone would know that was the situation and would be on their own for research. It would be transparent and people would know that “Daddy D’s Wacky WordPress Hosting” just had deep pockets, didn’t necessarily provide the best service.
What do YOU think? Should WordPress.org stop endorsing Bluehost? Should they at least provide an honest Bluehost review or some kind of real-life customer feedback? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I had to laugh a little bit when I saw 10up’s announcement yesterday that they’ll be sponsoring Helen Housandi to work full time on the WordPress project as both a core contributor and a community leader. Not because I don’t think it’s amazing. It’s an enormous commitment and I have mad respect for them giving back to that degree.
I laughed because, not 24 hours earlier, I was writing an email to my team talking about how I wanted to give back more to the WordPress community. How we were lucky to be a part of something so amazing. And how our business wouldn’t exist without its existence. The email wasn’t only a call to arms, but a commitment from myself as well.
You see, I told everyone on our team that working in the WordPress Support forums wasn’t just something that would be nice to do “when we have extra time” (does that exist?), but that it would be mandatory for every member of our team going forward on a weekly basis.
They were all so eager to jump right in and I was stoked by their reaction. It was yet another affirmation that I’ve picked great people to work here.
Going forward, each member of our team will be working in the WordPress support forums for a certain number of hours each week, and WP Site Care will be paying for that time. You can think of it as our “20% time” or whatever you’d like, but the bottom line is that we need to be more involved in improving the community, and a more responsive forum is a great way to give new users a great impression of this amazing platform.
I’ll admit that my decision to give back felt a little insignificant when you take into account that companies like Bluehost, Dreamhost, and 10up are sponsoring full time core contributors, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that, if everyone committed to giving back to some degree, however small, we’d move development forward in a huge way. Probably more than any of us realize.
I also realized that everyone has a place. We don’t employ anyone with core contributor skills here (yet), but we’re damn good at support, and that’s something we can give back in a very meaningful and effective way.
So I’m proud to announce that all WP Site Care team members will be contributing time weekly to the WordPress Support Forums and Docs.
One of the questions we get asked all the time is “which web host do you recommend for my WordPress site?” And without fail, our response is always the same:
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but these are some of the major things that play into our recommendation for web hosting.
Does the user need email hosting?
Does the user have a setup that requires a special server configuration?
Does the user have a lot of traffic or is their site traffic fairly light?
How fast do they plan on growing that traffic?
Do they run a food or photo blog that’s going to require a huge amount of storage or do they mainly just write blog posts?
What’s the user’s budget?
How important is security?
What would be the potential fallout if they were hacked?
It’s no wonder that people get confused by the world of web hosting. It’s a minefield of information and it seems like most WordPress host reviews are either 1) a thinly veiled sales pitch aimed at earning affiliate income, 2) are based on the experience of one individual over a short period of time, or 3) don’t fully take into account the shopper’s needs. If you’re looking for some data-driven performance comparisons, our WordPress performance comparison post is a good place to start.
Affiliate Income Isn’t Evil
Earning money by recommending a service that you truly support and stand by is awesome. The issue with web hosting affiliate programs is that there is no “one size fits all” solution, and many affiliates paint their preferred provider as the end all be all in web hosting when that’s simply not the case.
As a developer, I understand the value of a WP Engine account and for the most part I’ve been extremely pleased with their service and support, but no matter how much I may want them to be the mother of my virtual babies, they aren’t going to be the only host that I recommend to people.
They don’t fit everyone’s needs. And in my opinion, that’s just great. A hobby blogger doesn’t necessarily need an optimized software stack that uses varnish caching or an nginx web server running on an SSD with a 99.999% SLA. Twenty-seven daily visitors just doesn’t require that level of optimization or attention, especially when twenty-five of them were your mom.
If you’re a writer of online hosting reviews, and your review is positive enough that you want to recommend a company to your readers, please make it a point to let them know which type of customer is going to be best served before you go cashing that affiliate check.
Glowingly Positive or Downright Awful
Have you ever read a web hosting review that said “The service was pretty mediocre. I mean, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t particularly good either. I’ll keep using them, but only because I’m too lazy to move my stuff elsewhere”
It’s for the same reason that very few people go to Yelp to write a review about their experience at a new Thai restaurant that didn’t underwhelm or exceed expectations. “It was about what you’d expect from a a Thai restaurant. The curry was flavorful but I’ve had better.”
The main difference between chicken dumplings and a Cloud-based VPS is that people are insanely protective of their web projects. They can eat a bad dumpling and move on, but take their app offline for four minutes and the rage of a thousand suns will pulse through their veins.
Reviews are left by people who are either extremely satisfied or extremely pissed off. There’s rarely a middle ground. People who have the ability to remain objective, especially when it’s their own code at stake should make it a point to write hosting reviews. I’ll read your stuff. You are the chosen ones.
Ask Questions and Please Listen
It always scares me a little bit when a person or company evangelizes a particular web host for the masses. It’s dangerous territory. In many groups or forums I’m in, people will ask, “what do you think about X host?,” and without fail, the first responders chime in saying “I LOVE THEM SO MUCH THEY MAKE PUPPIES TALK AND FILL MY MOUTH WITH DELICIOUS ICE CREAM TREATS AND OH YEAH SOMETIMES I DO THINGS ON THE INTERNET THERE TOO HERE’S MY AFFILIATE LINK!!!”
Rarely, and I mean rarely, do people ask more questions about the particular needs of the individual or company. Or even make a recommendation with a qualifier like “They’re great if you plan to do X…”
Let’s make an effort to find out which problem we’re solving before we give a blanket “this host is the best” answer. Putting our own best interest aside for a few minutes will not only result in the best solution for the people around us, but will also build a long-term trust.
The Dangers of the “One Host” Recommendation
Not only does recommending only one host to do everything for everyone not make sense, it can also be dangerous. Take a look at a few examples:
For the longest time the iThemes team recommended HostGator as their preferred webhost, only to have HostGator throw BackupBuddy, iThemes’ flagship product, under the bus right along with their long long-term working relationship. That’s obviously not the fault of the iThemes team by any means, but it is something that can happen in this crazy world of business that we live in. For what it’s worth, iThemes now recommend Site5.
Joost de Valk of Yoast.com recommended VPS.net for the longest time, and many people signed up for their service as a result of that recommendation. Then, after a series of outages and no communication with customers, people started tipping over cars and lighting things on fire, at least in a virtual sense. Somehow, through all of this and due to his allegiance and affiliation with VPS.net, Joost found himself doing PR for VPS.net. He now recommends Synthesis.
Obviously not every web host is going to purposefully sever a relationship, or miss the mark when it comes to living up to an expectation that’s been set by our recommendation, but that’s a risk we take when we “put all of our eggs into one basket” so to speak.
If we diversify our recommendations based on the needs of the people we’re helping, we not only minimize the risk of having everything blow up in our face if the host decides to escape to the Bahamas and never talk to anyone ever again, but we also become a trusted resource for clients and friends, which is pretty awesome.
Here at WP Site Care we avoid the one size fits all approach to recommending a web host. So if you’re looking for a quick answer to the question: who is the best web host, then I’m afraid you’re gonna be disappointed. However, if you want some good guidelines to help you navigate choosing a web host, then read on.
Be Clear On Your Requirements
Whether you’re in the process of choosing a web host for an existing site or selecting one for a new project, it’s important that you’re clear on what your requirements are. Knowing what you need and want is a good way to ensure you find what you’re looking for. To help determine your hosting needs, some questions you can ask yourself include:
What platform are you using? Is your site powered by WordPress, another platform, or are you building it yourself?
What types of content are you publishing? Will your site be featuring lots of videos and high resolution photos, or will it be mostly text based with the occasional animated gif?
How many visitors are you receiving and what’s the projected growth for the foreseeable future?
Where are the majority of your visitors or target audience based? Do you require servers in a certain location or would geographically distributed hosting be more appropriate?
What additional services do you require? For example email services, managed hosting and offsite backups.
How important is uptime to you? Does your site generate income and how would 98% uptime impact you, compared to 99.99%?
What support channels are required? Is 24/7 phone and live chat required or will out of hours email support suffice.
Determine Why You Want to Move
If you are in the process of choosing a web host, it’s worth spending a bit of time thinking about why you want to change providers. What is it about your current host that has you shopping around and looking for an alternative? Figuring that out will help to establish what to look for or avoid in your next host.
Know Which Questions to Ask
When doing your research into possible hosting options, the previous tips should help you formulate some questions to ask when seeking advice. It’s a good idea to be specific to ensure the recommendations you ask for are relevant to your needs.
If you were in the market for a new laptop, you wouldn’t simply ask what is the best laptop? Well, you might, but then you put yourself at risk of ending up in the middle of an Apple/Windows flame war and nobody want’s that. The same applies to hosting. Instead of asking which is the best web host? try asking which is the best web host for a WordPress site that gets 1000 visitors a day from around the world and contains lots of video content?
The more specific you can be, the more relevant the recommendations are likely to be.
Seek Out Meaningful Reviews
Many web host reviews or recommendations come from satisfied users. While this is can be a good thing, they often have nothing to compare the service they are using to. A slew of customers choose a host and then stick with them until the ship starts sinking. Shopping around and trying out different hosts is time consuming and can be a real pain in the you know what (ass), making it understandable that people stick with their host and are happy to recommend them to others. This however doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best service for you and that even they couldn’t be better served elsewhere.
When looking for hosting reviews, look for reports that compare services using relevant tests with data to back up their results and findings. A good example is this recent comparison of the performance of seven top hosting companies. While comparing just one criterion, such as performance shouldn’t be the only measure used to select a host, a relevant, factual and data driven comparison can be invaluable in helping to make a decision.
Beware the “Celebrity” Endorsement
While Brad Pitt might genuinely enjoy a can of iced coffee, and your favorite blogger might actually use Bluehost for their site, it doesn’t mean that you should too. In the best case scenario, they truly believe in the service they are endorsing, and in the worst, they are just doing it for a quick buck. Their needs might be, and probably are different from yours so take their advice with a grain of salt.
If an endorsement does resonate with you, then you could reach out to the author and ask them for more details on their experiences with their web host. Your experience of using their site can also provide good insights into the service:
What are their page load times like?
Is using their site frustrating, with delays in images and video being displayed?
Have you noticed much downtime?
Have they ever been hacked?
If someone is happy to talk about how great their host is in exchange for an affiliate payment, then they should be willing to answer questions about why they endorse that host.
Follow Up on Testimonials
Most web hosts like to list testimonials from customers and publish lists of sites they are proud to host. In the same way as you can with endorsements and recommendations from users, you can try contacting these listed clients and ask them of their experiences with the host.
In lots of cases those endorsements are either outdated or a result of customer love felt early on and may not be consistent after the client has been hosting there for a year or more.
Feel free to also run your own performance testing on those websites and see how they measure up.
Run Your Own Tests
While using other people’s data is definitely valuable, gathering your own data can be even more useful, especially if no one else is publicly benchmarking the web hosts you are interested in. Services like Load Impact and WAPT allow you to load test websites and see how they perform.
While this process will be time consuming and costly, and only provide an insight into certain criteria, for those serious about finding the right web host, it can be totally worth your time.
If there is a particular set of sites that provide a similar service to yours, with similar user metrics, they could be a prime candidate for performance testing. You can use online services like Who’s Hosting This (accuracy is usually pretty good, but not always) to find out which host a website is using, or simply contact the site owner to find out.
General Things to Look For
With all the above taken into account, such as being specific about your requirements and needs, there are still some general things to look for when evaluating potential candidates to be your next web host. The following list of areas to evaluate and compare should help ensure you get a well-rounded overview of your potential new web host:
Type of hosting offered: shared, VPS, dedicated, fully managed, is there room to expand to the next level once your resources are capped on the current level?
Support: what are the available support channels – email, forums, live chat, telephone, 24/7 or office hours?
Features: what features are on offer, does the host use cPanel for one click installations of selected software, how much storage and bandwidth is available, how many domains can be hosted on one account?
Server locations: is the location of the data centers important to you? If it is, normally a quick google search or email to the provider can tell you the physical location of things.
Areas of specialization: do they focus on specific platforms like WordPress and do you require this level of service? Or do you simply want to learn how to use linux which is tough on a managed host?
Price: last but not least, how much do they charge and how does it compare to the other hosts on your shortlist?
General feedback online: while feedback from users with similar requirements to yours can is definitely ideal, lots of general negative feedback from users can be just as illuminating. Even indifference usually tells a good story. You can look for comments on blogs and forum posts criticizing the general features such as support and downtime but mileage may vary. Social signals like a #yourhostsucks hashtag that lasts over a day can be really telling.
Choosing a web host can obviously be as complex or as simple as you want to make it, but the general rule of thumb is to do your homework and make decisions before it’s an emergency. If you start seeing trends toward mediocrity with your current host, make a Plan B that you can put into action if the need arises.