Should accountants outsource their facebook activity?

I recently wrote an article which posed the question: Should accountants be more active on facebook?

I concluded by noting that every survey I have seen about accountants’ use of social media suggests that facebook remains a minority interest. This comes as no surprise to me and I don’t see this changing very much celebrex 200 mg.

Sure, there are some accountants who could secure valuable business benefits from becoming more active on facebook. Those who are best placed to do so are those willing to focus on promoting a specific niche service, to a distinct group of facebook users.

In order to keep the article to an acceptable length I removed the following section. This addresses the issue of whether it is worth paying someone else to set up and/or manage your practice’s facebook activity.

It’s easy to find people to whom you can outsource your facebook related activity. They tend to be enthusiastic as to what you and your practice could achieve through facebook. I remain cynical about this for the vast majority of smaller firms of accountants.

If however you are tempted then, before agreeing to commission such a service I would encourage you to do a little research of your own. Those who offer such a service tend to be excellent sales people. Their blogs and articles talk about all of the potential (theoretical) benefits of being active on facebook.

I would suggest that you first speak with previous clients who outsourced their activity 6 months or more ago. You are interested in those whose objectives and ideal clients are similar to yours.

This is the same approach one should adopt when considering any form of new marketing activity.

I would ask those who have used the service to explain the demonstrable financial benefits they have secured and which can be directly attributed to their outsourced activity on facebook. Do they feel that the fees they have paid and the time devoted to discussions with the consultancy have been warranted?

Almost every time I have asked accountants about this they simply repeat back what their marketing consultants have told them. Few have won much, if any business, through facebook. But they ‘believe’ that having a facebook page helps them to stand out, shows they are modern and that it will, at some stage, prove a worthwhile investment.

If that’s good enough for you, then go ahead.

Back in 2011 I wrote a blog post intended to reference  ‘Examples of good facebook pages for accountants’.  I invited readers to post links to such pages. Despite the many comments on that blog post, which has also become one of the most popular I have written, I am still waiting ;-(

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Linkedin and Facebook. What’s the difference?

A trainee accountant I know had just heard that I’d been speaking about Linkedin at an accountancy firm’s away day. He was amazed that a firm would need this as, in his words, “Linkedin is just like Facebook isn’t it?”

This is a common misconception, fuelled in part by surveys and articles that reference Linkedin simply as just another social networking site. This causes many older people to dismiss Linkedin as they have no interest in social networking. And many younger people then pay it little attention as they are already active on Facebook. “Why bother doing much on a copycat site?”

My view is quite simple. The two sites are very different.

For professionals, like accountants, I suggest viewing Facebook as being principally for fun, friends and family.

Linkedin however is where you can build, manage and utilise your business connections. It’s more of a professional business networking site rather than somewhere to share your social activities and non-business views.

Crucially, as I explained to my young friend, his career moves are more likely to benefit from his Linkedin activity than from his use of facebook. The latter has more potential to have an adverse impact if postings and comments are not carefully considered.

Linkedin can also be used as a powerful career enhancer and I have spoken about this before. More and more recruitment decisions are influenced by Linkedin profiles. Also relevant to your career success will be your activity and the connections you build up on Linkedin.

The other key distinction between facebook and Linkedin is that the latter is a powerful lead generation tool that can be used by accountants – of all ages.  And this tends to be the focus of the talks I present on the subject both in-house and at conferences.  Hence my conclusion that Linkedin is VERY different to Facebook and a far more valuable and important tool for most accountants.

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9 things to avoid doing on social media

Too many people play at social networking and don’t really ‘get it’. Then they assert that ‘social networking’ doesn’t work – although the fault is not so much with the medium as with the way they used it.

There are many posts on this blog that can help social media novices – and also more experienced users. This time though I have summarised nine things you would be well advised to avoid doing on social media – if you want to have a chance of using it successfully for business purposes.

  1. Don’t make it all about you. Self promoting is a turn-off and will rarely attract new people to get to know you. And if they don’t know you they won’t refer work or other people to you.
  2. Don’t be in too much of a hurry to post things. If you post too fast and without thinking you may say something online you regret. Some people see Google as a history book. Everything we have ever said or will ever post on line will be there and capable of being found for ever.
  3. Don’t keep telling us about what you’re eating. This was a mistake some users made in the past. Don’t perpetuate it
  4. Keep your messages varied. Don’t keep repeating or reposting the same messages.
  5. Keep your messages focused and specific so that you STANDOUT (in a positive way).
  6. No spam. ‘Need I say more?
  7. Don’t try to use more than the odd hashtag until you are sure you really understand how these work. Rank amateurs really standout – and for the wrong reasons!
  8. Keep your posts honest, decent and truthful.
  9. In summary – don’t be stupid. Apply common sense to all you say and all you do online.

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How long do you spend on social media each week? (3)

Every so often someone asks how I allocate my time across all of the social media with which I am involved. What follows is the current answer. It’s my third blog post on the subject. The first was in 2010 and the second was in April 2012.

I started to use social media in 2006. Now, despite my continued use of and enthusiasm for social media, I spend less time than ever before on social networking sites. And the time I do spend there is more focused than in previous years. This is in line with the advice I give to anyone who is inclined to experiment with or to become active on social media.

I should stress that I have no daily or weekly targets and the actual time I spend depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and meetings I attend. I often find that I am more active when I am out and about as I tend to check my phone for updates while waiting for people and while commuting. I no longer keep social media windows open on my desk top when in the office.

Social Networks

Facebook

Rarely more than a few snatched minutes every few days (normally using my iphone). My blog posts are automatically added to my bookmarklee facebook wall. I still feel comfortable with my decision to leave facebook to fun, family and friends rather than to try to use it for business generation.

There are two business related facebook groups to which I contribute regularly – indeed they are the main reason I am active there at all. But neither is directly related to my target audiences of accountants and other professional advisers.

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Google+

I still spend no time here at all. Had a good look when it was launched and created a profile there. I get the odd notification that someone has added me to their circles. If and when it becomes a key communication tool for my target business audience I will have another look. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. In the meantime I spend enough time online elsewhere on social and business media.

I am aware that activity on Google+ can have a positive impact on where you appear in google search results. Not sure mine would be much improved given my already high levels of activity online.

Pinterest

Again, I spend no time here. Unlikely to change – see comments re Google+ above.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change)

Micro-blogging

Twitter

I am now even more focused than I was previously and I rely on a plugin to my main blog to post a random item every 2 hours. As there are over 500 posts to choose from this means no repeats for over a month. It also means that I appear active even when I am otherwise engaged. I supplement these posts with links to current blog posts and replies to and RTs of other tweets and links I think will be of interest to my followers (who number well over 5,000 – and more than 9 times the number of people I follow).

Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

Business online networks

LinkedIn

I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across all areas of my business activities. I also use it to get back in touch with people in a business context and to connect up with business people I meet whether socially or otherwise. I check out the activity on my home page, new discussions in key groups, requests to join my groups and all new connection requests and messages every day. I also look to post new discussions in my groups each week.

Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

Accountancy and tax websites

AccountingWeb

As consultant practice editor I write weekly articles and I always seek to engage with those who comment on these. I also check out and comment on other articles and contribute to ‘Any Answers’ every couple of days. Total time (excl paid-for writing): Upto an hour a week

Blogging

WordPress – Blog for ambitious accountants

My personal blog for ambitious accountants – you’re reading it now.  Total time: Probably an hour per week to post one or two items and to review and reply to comments.

Blogger – The lighter side of accountancy and tax

My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. I seem to have reduced the time I spend adding posts here. Total time: No more than 10 minutes a week.

Blogger – TaxBuzz blog

I have not blogged here since December 2011. I realised it was an indulgence and was taking too much time for no obvious reward.

Other blogs

I collate RSS feeds from dozens of blogs through to my Feedly Reader (since Google reader stopped operating) which I only access on my iphone. This enables me to keep up with blogs I find of interest, mostly while I’m out and about. Total time: Reading during train journeys: Maybe 2 hours a week.

Conclusion

It all adds up and of course my online activities are quite well honed now. I’ve been experimenting with many of the above since 2006.

How about you?

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Are your social media activities focused on Volume or Value?

Has anyone told you that social media is all about collecting as many connections, friends and followers as possible? That ‘bigger is best’? It’s an issue that seems to divide the social media advocates. I can tell you now that I believe in Value over Volume.

Most online networks make announcements when they reach milestone numbers like a million or ten million. And they encourage users to build large networks. But are bigger networks better for the people in them? Is a Twitter following of ten thousand people better than a thousand?

As with all these things, it depends on what you want.  Your clients who are promoting products to sell around the world can usefully connect with anyone and everyone. They only need a small percentage of these connections to make good money. For them, big (volume) networks make sense.

However, if you’re an accountant you need to build trusted relationships – which takes time. You need to be more focused on building select relevant networks online rather than trying to connect with thousands of random people all over the world.  At best they will do nothing for your practice. At worst they will become a distraction either because you waste time on them or because they try to engage you in communication about THEIR services and products.

In my own case I have nevertheless built up thousands of followers on twitter and thousands of connections on Linkedin. But I am NOT an accountant in practice. Plus I routinely reject connection requests from strangers on Linkedin – unless they are clearly within my target market.

I do not follow thousands of people on twitter nor do I try to trick people into following me back. Thus, the fact that (at the time of writing) I have a healthy ratio of 8 times as many people following me as I follow, suggests I must be posting items of interest. I see no point in following thousands of people in the hope that they will follow me back and boost my follower numbers. The apparent ‘volume’ would be of no real value to me – or to them.

Social Media is no different from the real world. Although some of the people you know will never become clients they may recommend their friends and family to you at some stage in the future. But they can only do that if they know enough about you. If you provide a very rare or unusual service then perhaps it’s enough that they know your name. But for most accountants this will not be sufficient.

So, on social media, as in real life, you need to create and foster VALUABLE connections. Despite what some marketing and social media people may suggest, I can assure you that chasing high volumes of connections and followers will be an unrewarding distraction.

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Social Media Policies for accountants – update

I have heard a number of stories about firms of accountants trying to limit their staff (and partners’) access to social media sites. This is generally based on fear of the unknown. The motives may also be driven by misconceptions drawn from misleading, inaccurate or simply ill-informed media reports and references to twitter, facebook and even Linkedin.

Here are some key questions to consider before you implement any such changes:

1 – Are we all agreed as to what counts as a social media site? Many people would include Linkedin which is more of as an online business networking site. And that’s certainly how I use it. Limiting partners’ access to Linkedin is to limit the firm’s potential to secure profitable new clients. Far better to invest in some training so that everyone knows HOW to use Linkedin effectively and uses similar wording to describe the  firm in their profiles.

2 – It’s probably not just social media sites you want to stop your staff accessing during working hours. There are plenty of other non-work related websites that staff may access. Some with video feeds. What about news junkies? TV soap junkies? Staff planning their nights out? Those with health issues? Sports fans? The list goes on and on. Why focus on social media sites?

3 – What about access to these sites that is achieved via staff’s personal smart-phones? over 3G, 4G or via your wifi connection? So many options. What about personal phone calls? Long ones vs short ones?

Surely what REALLY matters is whether staff are focused on working or on personal matters during working hours. What do you do about those who start early and finish late but spend 20 mins on non-work websites during the day?

If you can’t trust the staff working for you in a professional office you need to review your recruitment, appraisal and promotion policies. And do check with an employment lawyer before you start making changes to employment terms and conditions. The second part of this update will summarise the issues to consider in this regard.

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Online profiles – make sure yours isn’t boring

Online profiles are everywhere now. They appear on many firms’ websites, on social networking sites and on Linkedin. Actually pretty much all of the points below apply equally to any printed profile or CV you might produce too.

When you’re writing yours please don’t focus on the boring stuff – where you were born, what you did at school or college or your first few jobs (unless you’re very young and they are all still relevant).

Focus instead on the recent stuff, the relevant stuff and how what you do can make a difference. What have you achieved that benefits your clients, your current employer or your current firm? What expertise can you talk about that a prospective client might be looking for? What about a new employer or firm who is looking for a new recruit?

How much the same as every other accountant do you seem to be? Can you highlight real differences, a special focus, a niche?

Even your online profile photo can impact whether or not you look boring to people. And you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

The key thing to stress is that you need to be authentic, consistent (not in a boring way!), enjoy yourself (without alienating anyone else) and evidence your enthusiasm – without going O.T.T.  Keep in mind the sort of people you hope will read your online profile and what they will find of interest. The boring stuff is rarely going to be key.

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Nine career related tips re accountants’ use of facebook

One of the talks I presented at Accountex in November 2012 was titled: Harnessing the power of social media for career success. Much of this talk was an adaptation of my more general articles, blogs and talks on social media. However, there were a number of completely new elements including some key tips re facebook – which I have summarised below.

Why, you might ask, did I reference facebook during the talk. Surely I would have focused on Linkedin – the online Business networking site. I did. But, the ubiquity of facebook means it is also worth thinking about what you can do here to aid your professional career.  I would stress that I start from the perspective that facebook really is more for ‘social’ use than for building business connections.  I am NOT a fan of the idea that anyone tries to become facebook friends with partners in firms of accountants or with the owners of businesses – unless you can see that they are clearly encouraging this through the way that THEY use facebook.  That won’t be very often.

For what it is worth I have over 2,400 connections on Linkedin and around 4,300 followers on twitter but fewer than 300 friends on facebook.  For me, it really is not a business focused medium. But I’m not looking to build my career so my experience and approach is not really relevant.  Which is why I DID cover facebook in my recent talk. Here are the nine tips:

  1. Make your facebook profile work for you – although not as formal as Linkedin, friends can still see the details you share about your current and previous roles and projects. Ensure that these paint a positive picture and evidence your specific expertise and any distinctive value that you offer.
  2. Be aware of who your ‘friends’ are – do you really know them ALL? Some may be old work colleagues or people with  whom you have lost touch. Any of them may be in a position to put you forward or to scupper your chances of getting your next dream role.
  3. Customise who can see your status updates – Whenever you post a status update you can decide which groups of friends can or cannot see it. You can also ensure that specific people should not see specific posts. You should always be aware that, unless you use this facility, your updates may be widely seen. Some of your updates may be best hidden from all but your closest friends!
  4. Take care over the job and career related updates that you post – Be especially careful if you are prone to complain about elements of your current role or employer. If you MUST post such updates you should really limit who can see them! More positively you may find that more distant friends may pick up on your availability, if you are between roles – as long as you are positive and upbeat.
  5. Resist the temptation to share too much too widely – This follows on from the above two points.  If you are employed you shouldn’t be posting updates to facebook more than two or three time during the working day. If you post updates too often it gives the impression that you are not focused on your work and that’s not a good impression to give if you want to progress your career.
  6. Check your privacy settings – Again this follows on from the above points.
  7. Check what your business ‘friends’ can see – As part of the ‘activity log’ facility you can check the impact of your privacy settings using the ‘View as…’ facility.
  8. Check the settings for every authorised app – You will probably want to limit the ability for apps to automatically post activity updates to your facebook timeline. Again , this is especially important if you find the time to ‘play’ during the working day. There may also be some apps and games that you would prefer your involvement to be kept confidential as reagards your ‘business’ ass0ciates.
  9. Send personalised messages to friends who may know people – You never know who might be able to make a valuable introduction to a potential employer, or  who might hear about the perfect job opening.  More an more employers are providing incentives to staff to provide leads to potential recruits. This can be much more cost effective than using recruitment consultants.

Many younger accountants will find nothing new in this list as they apply similar principles as regards the extent to which their parents can see what they are doing on facebook after they become ‘friends’. Equally some parents, who have been accepted as their children’s ‘friends’ on facebook, may wish to limit the extent to which their children can see what they (the parents) have been upto!

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more social media insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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How successful are the big firms’ experiments with social media?

A new report (at the time of writing) suggests that most of the biggest firms are wasting their time and are not creating enough of a buzz through their social media activities.

The report from Flagship Consulting (a PR consultancy) “used a number of tools” to “measure brand activity” across twitter, facebook and firms’ websites and blogs.  The tools that Flagship reference are Hubspot’s marketing grader, Klout and PeerIndex.

questioned the methodology of PeerIndex recently after it recently ranked me in the top 40 finance tweeters in the UK. (At the time of writing it currently has me as 30th). I have similar concerns about Klout. In both cases I am doubtful that the measures they focus on are the most important for accountants using social media. In effect if one seeks to rise up their rankings one is led to follow behaviours that may not be best suited to accountancy firms.

Back to Flagship’s report which notes on p2 that, in response to a survey undertaken by CCH and YouGov, “just 9% of the 99 firms” [so that’s 9 of them] said “social media was the top method for bringing in new clients”. This is no surprise for sizeable firms but it helps explain their relative lack of commitment to social media – as revealed throughout the report. This stat is hardly likely to change. The bigger the firm the less likely that social media activity will be a key contributor to the winning of new clients.

E&Y come out top of Flagship’s analysis. Their twitter account, at the time of writing has >26,554 followers (despite following just 55 tweeters); taxassist, 2nd in the report has just 1,829 followers. The report stresses the importance of also considering engagement on websites/blogs and on facebook – but the difference is clearly massive. Regular readers will know that follower numbers on twitter are not the ‘be all and end all’. But any stats related to firms with less than a few thousand followers are relatively meaningless. For large firms the number of people who could potentially see their ‘stuff’ and with whom they can engage is surely key. If it’s low then the generic metrics, which may not mean much anyway, that rank social media players, are even less meaningful.

The report criticises firms that do not have active facebook pages and stresses the importance of also considering engagement on websites/blogs and on facebook. There is a good summary of the position on p20 of the report which reaches predictable conclusions – with which I do not wholly agree.

I did not see anywhere any reference to setting a clear strategy for building the firm’s brand on social media platforms.  When I discuss this issue with accountants I stress that an overarching ‘social media’ policy is less important than the need to consider each of the social media platforms that are relevant or likely to be relevant to your firm.

I have written before about the challenges for large firms experimenting with social media.

The biggest firms, like E&Y, can adopt a similar approach to other well-known big brands. This may well include engaging someone (internally or externally) to build a brand presence across the major platforms. But engagement is often key and that is the biggest challenge when the culture is not embedded in the firm.

At the other extreme, smaller firms are increasingly looking to engage with individuals who are themselves active on social media and who may be target clients. But for the vast majority it’s still all a bit of game. I believe there are ways to secure better results but they take time, money and a realistic strategy. Few firms have yet thought this through. They are caught in the hype promoted by marketing, PR and social media ‘experts’ who will be the only winners for some time.

Like this post? You can now obtain my 10,000 word ebook containing loads more Social Media related insights, short-cuts, tips and advice aimed specifically at accountants. You can buy the book or download a summary for free here>>>

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How much time does it take to be active on social media?

I was asked recently how I allocate my time across all of the social media with which I am involved. I guess this might be of interest to others so thought I’d blog my response. I then found that I drafted a blog post along these lines around 18m ago. It’s interesting (to me at least) to note the differences in my replies today as distinct from back then.

I should stress that I have no daily or weekly targets and the actual time spent depends on what’s happening, my work priorities and the meetings I have in my diary.

Social Networks

Facebook

Now – rarely more than a few snatched minutes every few days (normally using my iphone). My blog posts are automatically added to my facebook wall.

18m ago – I’m not a big facebook user but know I need to check for new friend requests each day. I scan my home page and comment/like anything that grabs my attention. Until and unless I perceive that facebook is a good way to keep in touch with accountants etc I doubt I’ll spend any longer here.

Google+

I spend no time here at all. Had a good look when it was launched and created a profile there. I get the odd notification that someone has added me to their circles. If and when it becomes a key communication tool for my target business audience I will have another look. I doubt that will happen anytime soon. In the meantime I spend enough time online elsewhere on social and business media.

18m ago – n/a (Google+ didn’t exist!)

Pinterest

Again, I spend no time here. Unlikely to change – see comments re Google+ above.

YouTube channel

BookMarkLee – takes no time in a typical week (No change)

Micro-blogging

Twitter

Now – I think I am more focused than I was 18m ago but otherwise little has changed beyond an increase in the number of people who follow me to 3,800. Total time: 15 mins a day plus snatched moments while out and about.

18m ago – I have written an entire piece about how I use twitter.

Business social networks

Ecademy

Now – The time I can afford to spend here has reduced as my time on other online media has increased. I still blog occasionally and add comments to blogs (normally only those posted by people I know). And I attempt to reply and assist fellow members of a few key clubs. Total time: Upto an hour a week

18m ago – I use a bookmark on my browser (both on my macbook and my iphone) to keep up with things in my favourite clubs/groups  typically while I’m out and about. I receive email prompts re messages, key notifications and search results. I sometimes drop in to offer help, support and assistance where I can – this is less frequent than it was a few years ago. Sometimes I post requests for help, support or information myself.

LinkedIn

Now – I spend more time here than on any other such platform. I use it for lead generation across almost all areas of my business activities. It’s also easy to use to get back in touch with people in a business context. I check out the activity on my home page, new discussions in key groups, requests to join my groups and all new connection requests and messages every day. My time here has increased over the last couple of years as I’ve sought to practice what I preach. It’s the most valuable of all the online networks for me from a business perspective. I now have over 2,100 first level connections but never agree to connect with strangers unless they offer a good reason for so doing. Total time: Around 2 hours a week.

18m ago – I realise I have not been spending as much time on here as I should. After all this is the only serious online business network that crosses over into big business. Memo to self: practice what you preach!

4Networking

Now – I have started popping back into the business forum in advance of attending a new group meeting in the City.  Not sure whether I will have the time to continue being active here as well as on Ecademy where I know more people. (Note: Face to face networking can drive online networking which may not succeed in isolation).

18m ago – Have replied and contributed to various discussions. Seems very similar to Ecademy in some respects but I know fewer people here. I sense I may get bored of contributing into the ether.

Accountancy and tax websites

AccountingWeb

Now – I am now engaged to write weekly articles and I always seek to engage with those who comment on these. I also check out and comment on other articles and contribute to ‘Any Answers’ every couple of days. Total time (excl paid-for writing): Upto an hour a week

18m ago – As Consultant Practice editor I check out the site every 2 or 3 days and add comments and replies to queries. I also write a couple of articles each month. Ignoring the articles I probably spend an hour or so a week on the site.

AccountancyAge.com

Now – I am a far less frequent visitor these days than I was previously. I occasionally read the stories that come through by way of email notifications or tweets and sometimes go to the website to add a comment or two. Total time: Maybe 20 mins a week in total.

18m ago – I scan many of the stories and add comments to 2 or 3 of them each week

ION sites (IT counts and Tax Faculty)

Now – As before.

18m ago – I tend to only visit by ref to email prompts and if something specifically interests me. Maybe 20 mins in total across a typical week.

Blogging

WordPress – blog for ambitious accountants

Now – My personal blog for ambitious accountants – you’re reading it now.  Total time: Probably an hour or two per week to post a couple of items and to review and reply to comments.

18m ago – This may be an indulgence as I seem to post so many articles here. Probably averages upto 3 or 4 hours a week.

Blogger – accountant jokes and fun blog

Now –  As before.

18m ago – My fun blog. I cut and paste ad-hoc items here. Probably takes around 30 mins a week.

Blogger – TaxBuzz blog

Now – I have not blogged here since December 2011. I realised it was an indulgence and was taking too much time for no obvious reward. The traffic it drove to the Tax Advice Network website was not converting into business so I have suspended my blogging activity here.

18m ago – I post tax commentary and debunk tax stories in the media 2 or 3 times a week. The idea is to drive traffic to the Tax Advice Network website and to be identified as a key tax commentator.

Other blogs

Now – I collate RSS feeds from dozens of blogs through to Google Reader which I only access on my iphone. This enables me to keep up with blogs I find of interest, mostly while I’m out and about. Total time: Reading during train journeys: Maybe 2 hours a week.

18m ago – I dip in and out of blog posts when I follow links from twitter or when prompted by emails.

Conclusion

It all adds up and of course my online activities are quite well honed now. I’ve been experimenting with many of the above for over 3 years.

How about you?

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