What If You Want to Be “Internet Famous?”

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 8 Comments

There’s a lot of reasons to blog, present, and build a brand – get a better job, change careers, raise your billable rate – but what if you just want to be known by name amongst the community?

I was chatting with a blogger about how to be successful, and the first step was defining what success meant to him. One of his goals was to be recognized when he walked into a conference – but he didn’t want to “be famous for being famous,” like a Kardashian kind of thing.

I know some of you are going to cringe, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and let’s think through how to accomplish that with the minimum amount of effort required. (I don’t even think it’s wrong to want to be the Kardashians of the SQL Server community, but I’ll save a recipe for that as another blog post.)

Understanding Your Available Time

Sit down with a weekly calendar and literally block out time for:

  • Your job
  • Commuting
  • Meals
  • Spouse and family
  • Exercise
  • Unwinding (TV, games, drinking, betting on horses)
  • Learning (reading blogs, RSS, Stack Exchange)
  • Sleep
  • And finally, writing/sharing/marketing

I’ve actually done this with a real calendar, and my times for writing here at are 6AM-7AM weekdays, 6AM-8AM weekends. That gives me 9 hours per week as an absolute max – but that’s only a max. Some days I sleep in, and I miss my Ozar.me time, and I’m fine with that – but I can’t take time out of other categories to make up for it. I’ve got priorities between these categories, and personal writing/sharing/marketing is at the very bottom of the list.

If you’re young and single, you might move that priority higher, or take things out of other categories. The point here is to get a real, honest answer about the number of hours per week you’re going to be able to put into getting Internet Famous.

And that’s usually a reality check. If you’ve only got 4-8 hours per week to do this, and you expect to manage a blog and write original content for it, you’re not going to be putting out one solid post per week, and you’re just not going to be Internet Famous for technical knowledge. You can indeed take the Kardashian approach (seriously, it’s not a bad one) in 4-8 hours per week, and I’ll talk about that in another post.

Understand Your Target Audience Options

Let’s put SQL Server users into four levels – the specifics don’t matter, but I’m just trying to polish the difference between juniors and seniors:

Level 1: people who know what SQL Server is, and rely on it every day to get their job done. They may have even been working with it for years. However, they’ve spent less than a couple hundred hours in SQL Server Management Studio or PowerShell managing the plumbing of SQL Server. They get data in and out of the database, but for the most part, their SQL Server just takes care of itself.

Level 2: people who have spent 200-1,000 hours managing SQL Server, getting their hands dirty with the plumbing. It may not be their primary job, though – think about a sysadmin in a company with hundreds of servers, and a few of them happen to be important SQL Servers.

Level 3: people who have spent thousands of hours managing SQL Server, and have mentored other people (be it junior DBAs via private in-company training or the public via blogging/presenting) on how to do these tasks.

Level 4: Microsoft Certified Masters, or what we call un-certified Masters – people who have Master-level experience, but just never got the chance to pass the test.

There’s more Level 1 people than Level 4.

A lot more.

And if you want to be Internet Famous in 8-16 hours per week of work, you can’t afford to target multiple audiences. Hell, you probably can’t even target just Level 4 by itself because of the way they learn.

Understand How Your Audience Learns

Most Level 1 and 2 people are reactive. They stumble upon a problem, hit Google, and read the first good-looking result. Some Level 1 & 2 folks will catch the bug and start proactively learning, but it’s the exception rather than the rule – they’re just trying to get by.

Most Level 3 and 4 people take the time to proactively learn in their spare time. They read blogs and books, watch videos, and attend conferences. They follow people as much as they follow topics.

The great news is that if you want to reach Level 1 and 2 people, you just need to rank well in Google for the topics you choose. (More on choosing topics in a minute.) They’ll see you pop up in their search results a few times, and if your web site is constructed right (start with the book ProBlogger), they’ll subscribe to you and see you as a trusted partner.

On the other hand, if you want to become “Internet Famous” in the Level 3 & 4 audience, you’re going to have to teach them something they don’t already know, and you’re going to have to surface in their circles. Most proactive learners don’t seek out new blogs to follow, and when they use search engines, they tend to stick with results from sites they already know.

Getting “Internet Famous” in the Level 3 & 4 audience means competing with consultants and evangelists who can already spend 24-32 hours per week doing R&D, and in the case of evangelists, get paid to share their knowledge about it. The audience can only follow so many personalities, so getting them to pay attention to you takes a crazy amount of unpaid work.

Understand What Your Audience Does

Think of job descriptions as a similar pyramid. There’s a gazillion developers, less accidental DBAs, less production DBAs. Look around your office to get a feel for the mix, and for every third party app you use, think about all their developers. It’s not that the people at the top of the pyramid are somehow better – they’re not, and I have a world of respect for good developers because that job is WAY harder than database administration. My point is that there’s much fewer career-oriented production DBAs.

Pick your audience’s job and their level, and then get to know a few real-life examples. Think about your own personal network, and make a list of people who match that profile. Take them out to lunch and talk to them about how many hours a week they do various tasks, what tasks are the most challenging, and which ones they hate the most.

Understand Their Pain and The Easiest Solution

Pick exactly one task that:

  • Is done by the largest audience possible
  • Ideally, is challenging for Level 1 & 2 people
  • Preferably, that they do very often or consumes a lot of time when they do it, or that they avoid doing it altogether because it’s painful
  • And that they might Google for a solution instead of just struggle through it

Solve it clearly and elegantly.

The solution could be:

Given your available time, make a project plan to get to your minimum viable product as described in The Lean Startup, and put the hammer down.

If along the way, you realize that becoming Internet Famous for technical work isn’t going to work out for you, that’s okay. There’s the Kardashian approach, and I’ll talk about that next. (Seriously, stop making that face.)

This Year’s YouTube, Web, and Twitter Analytics

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 10 Comments

Every year, Microsoft MVPs have to fill out some paperwork describing what they did on their summer vacation. Each time I do this, the numbers boggle my mind, so I’m sharing some of the fun ones with you data junkies. (These numbers aren’t necessarily the ones I use on my community contribution forms because they reflect things the whole company is doing, not just me.)

YouTube Channel Stats

We record our weekly webcasts and post them up on our YouTube channel. You people continue to watch them in crazy numbers:

YouTube Channel Stats

YouTube Channel Stats

That’s 49,452 hours of video watching time – more than double our numbers from last year. That’s insane. It’s not like we’re even trying to do videos to get more hits – we’re just talking about SQL Server stuff we like to talk about.

I had to laugh that our “Dislikes” number has tripled (from 23 last year). Out of 423,868 views, I’m actually kinda surprised we only got 67 dislikes. Can’t please all of the people all of the time, but pleasing 99.98% seems pretty good. (Hey, we’ve got three nines.)

The “subscribers” number is only over the last 365 days – we’re currently at 5,714 subscribers, which is pretty amazing to me because I don’t even subscribe to YouTube channels. I just search for individual videos and watch ‘em. There’s clearly a big audience out there that likes to subscribe to this stuff.

The “Total Estimated Earnings: $0.00″ is genius – YouTube is owned by Google, and they’re basically taunting you right from the dashboard. “Hey, come put Google ads on your videos, and you could be making real money.” Well, yeah, sure, but then people would stop subscribing, because few people want to see SQL Server training with ads slapped all over it.

DBAreactions Statistics

My goofy little side project continues to rock on. I try to sneak in a lot of educational material in here to inject learning in fun ways. Seems to be working. I have no idea what my end goal is with this thing. When I first pulled this up, I was a little disconcerted by the downward trend:

DBAreactions Analytics

DBAreactions Analytics

But holy cow, it’s still up double from last year’s launch – 397,171 sessions?!? That’s about a thousand per day. And 95,591 users?!? There’s A HUNDRED THOUSAND PEOPLE who like our goofy database jokes? Wow. My mind, it is boggled.

Where are these people coming from?

DBAreactions Referrals Analytics

DBAreactions Referrals Analytics

Most come from the @DBAreactions Twitter account, but a surprising number come from Facebook. How is this even happening? People are sharing reactions on Facebook, with links back to DBAreactions.com? Wow.

And Feedly? So evidently I’m not the only person who uses Feedly to stay on top of my favorite sites (it’s a great replacement for Google Reader) but wow.

But the one that really makes me chuckle is Chat.StackExchange.com. Somebody must have written a bot to automatically fetch the most recent DBAreactions and post them into the chat rooms.

Ozar.me Analytics

In 2014, I resolved to publish one solid post every Tuesday. (Some Tuesdays, like this one, are less solid than others.) I’ve always seen myself as a journalist for the SQL Server community, and I started treating my personal blog as my journalism project again. I don’t write for metrics, but it’s interesting that readers appear to appreciate the work I’m putting into it:

Ozar.me Analytics

Ozar.me Analytics

I’m happy with that growth curve, but anytime I need a sense of perspective, I look at the annual analytics for BrentOzar.com:

Two commas. Wow.

Two commas. Wow.

Uh, yeah. Ozar.me is a fun side project, but …yeah.

Twitter Analytics

I never looked at this stuff before, but hey, as long as we’re poking around in data, let’s hit Twitter Analytics for @BrentO:

Tweet Activity

Tweet Activity

I have no idea what this means, but I recently started using Buffer to selectively share some of my favorite posts from over time. I’ve got a huuuuge bookmark collection of things I find inspiring, stuff I go back and re-read later. Figured I’d start dribbling those out to the public periodically too. People seem to like it – those tweets actually get MORE engagements than my actual stream-of-consciousness tweets. Go figure.

Followers are trending up:

You. Follow me.

You. Follow me.

Cool. And the people who follow me are interested in databases, programming, and comedy:

You and I have a lot in common.

You and I have a lot in common.

And it’s not exactly a metric, but what have I been talking about lately? Tweet Topic Explorer is a neat little tool that grabs your recent tweets and busts you for overusing phrases:

Tweet Topic Explorer for @BrentO

Tweet Topic Explorer for @BrentO

I laugh a lot. That sums up this year pretty well.

What Does It All Mean?

This isn’t about shoegazing or bragging. It’s about inspiring you and showing you a way forward.

Building a following is like making a snowball. It’s easy to pack a small snowball quickly. It’s a little harder to roll a snowball uphill and multiply it. It’s relatively easy to roll a snowball downhill, but it can get away from you and go into directions you don’t expect. This isn’t rocket science, but you do have to put some manual work into it. Even when the snowball is rolling downhill – and your network starts growing on its own once you hit a certain mass – you have to curate it.

A big audience means you can launch big projects. When we ran a 30% off sale last month to celebrate the launch of our 2015 training classes, we sold tens of thousands of dollars of training videos in the span of a few days. We won’t go to Pat Flynn levels of detail in describing where our revenue comes from, but this stuff really does work. The challenge is that unless you put a lot of work into improving your conversion rate (the percentage of people willing to hand you money), you’re going to have a tough time making a living.

Next time, I’ll talk about building a brand just for the sake of growing a big audience.

Donate to Doctors Without Borders, and I’ll Wear…

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | Leave a comment

leggings

Donate to this Doctors Without Borders campaign before the PASS Summit and check out what humiliating things we’ll be doing to ourselves:

$5,000 Total Donations: Argenis Fernandez will wear this unicorn hoodie at PASS. Update: reached, woohoo!

$10,000 Total Donations: Adam Machanic, Grant Fritchey, Steve Jones, and I will wear these furry rainbow leggings. That’s right, the Scary DBA and the Scary Parallelism Guy and, uh, me, who’s not really scary at all. Kirsten Benzel will also run the 11-mile SQL Long Run in the unicorn hoodie.

$15,000 Total Donations: While wearing the leggings, Adam, Grant, Steve, and I will line dance to ZZ Top’s Legs.

$20,000 Total Donations: Grant and I will each present one of our PASS sessions wearing the leggings.

$25,000 Total DonationsEd WatsonGareth Swanepoel, Jason Strate, and Kirsten Benzel will get SQL Server tattoos.

Get over there and donate. Every little bit really does help. Make a fool out of us!

Why I Love the SQLBits Conference

Posted on by Brent Posted in Blog Posts | 6 Comments

I’m ridiculously lucky to be able to attend so many conferences around the world as part of my job. (Hey, we’re self-employed, so we get to decide what our job is.) My favorite one out of them all is SQLBits, and since I just got back from SQLbits Telford, I should tell the story so you’ll understand why I like it so much.

The SQLbits Planning Process

Steampunk costumes at SQLbits (including Andrew Fryer and Grant Fritchey)

Steampunk costumes at SQLbits (including Andrew Fryer and Grant Fritchey)

Before anything is announced, the volunteers behind SQLbits start by secretly picking a unique UK venue every year – plus a unique theme to go along with it. SQLbits has been in universities, a golf resort, and gorgeous historic hotels. This year, they chose the Telford International Center, a conference venue near the birthplace of the industrial revolution. The theme: steampunk.

Then they contact a handful of speakers to offer them pre-conference sessions – day-long paid classes. Because SQLbits is a pretty big deal (over 1400 people registered this year), they don’t offer a public call for pre-con abstracts. They just contact some of the best pre-con speakers who are known to draw a lot of attendees. This way, they work out a good lineup of pre-cons, and international speakers are able to block out their schedule for the conference days.

After the venue, dates, theme, and pre-con lineup is set in stone, SQLbits announces the event to the public. At this point, they start accepting session abstracts from the public, plus the public can register to attend. Attendees are much more likely to fork out registration money and book their travel when they know the exact pre-con lineup.

Submitting Sessions to SQLbits

So far, the conference has consisted of 3 days:

  • Training Day (Thursday) – paid pre-cons where attendees sit in class with one speaker all day. Costs around $500 USD.
  • Deep Dive Day (Friday) – like a regular conference with multiple tracks of sessions. Costs around $300 USD.
  • Community Day (Saturday) – like a SQLSaturday, another day of multiple tracks of sessions. Totally free.

The pre-cons have been invite-only so far because it works out better for the grand unveiling, but then everyone is invited to submit sessions for Friday and Saturday. Pre-con speakers are expected to submit multiple sessions too since they’ve been given the privilege of making money to teach.

After the submissions are finished, the public is invited to vote on which sessions they’d most like to attend. The organizers take these votes into account along with other factors, and then pick the final lineup.

Visiting Wales Before SQLbits

The past venues have been so beautiful that this year I decided to fly over several days early and take my time seeing the sights. On the Saturday before the event, I flew into Birmingham, about a 45-minute drive from Telford. I rented a car and used Telford as my base of operations, driving around to various castles, churches, and bridges up and down the River Severn.

Highlights, plus click on the hyperlinks for pictures:

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle

Chepstow Castle - Built on the River Severn, this is England’s oldest post-Roman stone castle dating from the 1100s, home to the oldest castle doors in all of Europe. Watched a great (no, really) archery demonstration and saw my favorite sign in all my travels so far.

Temple Church, Bristol – built in the 1300s and bombed out by Germany during WWII, this is a reminder of Europe’s violent not-so-far-past. I also presented at the SQL Server Club in Bristol while I was in town.

Ironbridge, Telford – A cast iron bridge built in 1779 over the River Severn. I also made the vigorous hike up to The Rotunda, a viewing point where you can get a better sense for just how small Ironbridge really is compared to the surrounding hills.

The Dingle in Shrewsbury – stop laughing, it’s a garden. And I’m not normally a garden kinda guy, but this was beautiful.

By then, I’d (mostly) conquered my jet lag and was all ready to teach!

The Conference Itself

 

Simon Sabin opening up the keynote

Simon Sabin opening up the keynote

SQLbits sets itself apart from the moment attendees walk in the door. Immediately after getting your bag, you could get your own coffee drink of choice from an army of automated espresso machines serving lattes, cappuccinos, mochas, you name it. Walk up the stairs to the vendor area, and you could get conventional coffee, tea, or juices, plus breakfast of bacon sarnies.

Then it’s on to the sessions – and oh, the sessions. The DBA, dev, and BI tracks were taught by a huge array of Microsoft Certified Masters and MVPs. In any given time slot, I had a tough time picking – especially when there were always friends of mine from all over the world gathered by the espresso machines.

If you miss a session, no problem – they’re all videotaped and available for free online later, sorted by speaker. Not just crappy screen captures, either – the recent conferences have all included full blown camera-people tracking the speaker around.

At lunchtime, attendees were presented with the best food I’ve ever had at a conference, full stop.

Then, back to more sessions.

Friday Night: The Theme Party

This year’s theme was steampunk, and attendees delivered in amazing detail. One of my favorites was James Rowland-Jones, one of the organizers:

Great steampunk costumes

Great steampunk costumes

I’m only hitting the tip of the iceberg here, though, because about half an hour after the party started, the SQLbits organizers threw back the curtains on the most incredible conference party I’ve ever seen. Geeks stared in shock and awe as the curtains parted:

The curtains dropped, and the geeks rushed in

The curtains dropped, and the geeks rushed in

Old-style carnival games (that's the Prodata guys in the foreground in red leather costumes)

Old-style carnival games (that’s the Prodata guys in the foreground in red leather costumes)

Multi-story indoor slide

Multi-story indoor slide

An actual working carousel. That's Andre Kamman waving as he goes past.

An actual working carousel. That’s Andre Kamman waving as he goes past.

Games of Strength! Bob Duffy shows off his crossfit skills and hits the bell on his first try.

Games of Strength! Bob Duffy shows off his crossfit skills and hits the bell on his first try.

Penny Farthing lessons.

Penny Farthing lessons.

And That’s Why I Love SQLbits.

Sure it’s a conference – and a really good one. And they hold it in great locations. And they make it easy for international speakers, and they value attendee feedback as part of the selection process. Then they top it all off by throwing amazing events. There’s something for everyone – even if you can only come for the free community training day.

If you’re in the United Kingdom, you’re crazy not to go.

If you’re in a European location where you’ll have to fly no matter what conference you’re attending, I’d recommend SQLbits. You stay close to your own time zone, and you’ll get the maximum enjoyment with little jet lag. The event is simply spectacular, and I really don’t think you’re missing anything from any other conference. Sure, there are bigger conferences – but you can only attend one session at a time anyway, and I bet you’ll have a tough time choosing between the great sessions at Bits.

If you’re outside of Europe, and you can only attend one conference a year, the decision gets a lot tougher. SQLbits registration is much less expensive than other conferences, and it’s one hell of a deal, but you have to factor in the airfare.

The 2015 SQLbits Dates, Location, and Theme

I know, I’ve got you all hot and bothered, and now you want to register for the next one. Well, bad news – the dates haven’t quite been announced yet. The volunteers are already hard at work narrowing down the details.

I’ll be there, though. I’ve already blocked out their tentative dates on my calendar. ;-) The instant I can tell you more, I will.