We’ve all come across these people – a seemingly rare breed – that either seem to have a knack for being ahead of the next big trend, or come up with amazing and creative ideas with what appears to be an effortless ease. How do they do that, and more importantly, how can we do that?
Well, it’s a bit more than just that old, standby advice of “thinking outside the box”. Making sure you’re telling the stories that your audience wants to hear, versus just the ones you want to tell can make a big difference in whether you engage them or not. Making yourself available and open to different people and experiences is a fantastic way to stimulate and nurture your inner creativity. It’s also a great way to discover what really interests you and where you can bring the most value to your audience.
Joel Comm is an entrepreneur, speaker, author and consultant with over 20 years of internet business experience and has managed to find success among a variety of niches. He is a creative thinker who lives by the philosophy of embracing every opportunity as it comes.
Rich: Joel Comm is the New York Times bestselling author of twelve books including, The AdSense Code, Click Here To Order: Stories From The World’s Most Successful Entrepreneurs, KaChing: How To Run An Online Business That Pays And Pays, and Twitter Power 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0.
He has also written over 40 ebooks, he’s appeared in the New York Times, on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, on CNN Online, on Fox News and many other places. Joel, welcome to the show.
Joel: (ka-ching noise in the background) There you go, a little “ka-ching” for ya.
Rich: Nice “ka-ching” right there.
Joel: How are you doing, buddy?
Rich: I’m doing great. I appreciate you coming on today. So I was all prepared for the show, I was doing my homework and getting ready. And so I sat down to prepare my questions for this week’s interview, I reached out to you and confirmed the time of the show and you tell me you’re tired of talking about “the twitter”, also known as the reason I wanted to interview you.
Joel: Well, I’ve got this book, it’s out there now, every time I’m talking about Twitter and it’s like here’s the key, “don’t be stupid, do good stuff”. That’s it. Now you know everything you need to know.
Rich: Alright, that’s fine. I can roll with the punches. I’m ready for Plan B – how can today’s digital marketer use Plurk to reach more of their ideal customers?
Joel: (excessive laughing) Well, you’re going to wait until the book Plurk Power comes out to discover the secrets of plurking effectively.
Rich: I know that most people don’t even know what Plurk is anymore, but I’m glad you appreciate that. And as far as I know Plurk still exists, because about a month ago I got an announcement from Plurk that I had a new Plurk follower.
Joel: Oh great, Yeah, Plurk and so many social sites that we dabbled in. When I wrote Twitter Power – along with my colleague Dave Taylor, of askdavetaylor.com fame – if you don’t know him you should.
Rich: He’s the first person I followed on Twitter, by the way, that was Dave.
Joel: Fantastic. I love Dave, great guy, great friend and prolific author in his own right. Hmm, what was I going to say about this? I was going somewhere and then I rambled on about Dave.
Rich: We were talking about different platforms that we’ve used over the years that maybe aren’t so popular anymore. Were you going down that avenue?
Joel: I think I was. But you know what, once you’ve turned 50 you can completely forget stuff and say, “I have no idea where I was going”, which makes for an awesome interview. What will happen is we’ll go onto something else and I’ll be like, “Oh, oh, I got it, it’s back!”
Rich: Well, if you remember what it is, just hit the “ka-ching” button, I’ll stop what I’m saying and you just go on with what you remembered, ok?
Joel: That’s awesome, let me go get my button again. Ok, next question that I can’t answer, please.
Rich: Next question. You have done a lot of memorable stuff, and I’m not just saying that to stroke your ego. But you are the creator of the very famous and very infamous iFart App. You had perhaps the first web-based reality TV show. You worked retail behind the counter at Barnes and Noble after you were a successful author.
Joel: Yeah. They had my books on the shelves.
Rich: Yes, and as I heard, unfortunately nobody ever bought one while you were in the retail store, right?
Joel: I know. I so was hoping they would come up to the counter with one of my books and I would say, “Do you want me to sign that?” But it never happened.
Rich: That is sad. You liked Uber so much you became an Uber driver for at least a day and recorded the entire thing and made it into a little video. So you do these kind of very creative things. I guess my first question is, where do these creative ideas spring from and how do you actually do them?
Joel: Well, I try to live organically and authentically wherever I am. When we introduce people on shows we position people and say, “Our guest is a New York Times bestselling author, he’s done this and that..”, but the fact of the matter is that gives people a little background but we’re just real people living our lives and trying to figure things out as we go. So depending upon the season of life that I’ve been in, when the iPhone came out I knew I had to have an iPhone. I’ve always been a pioneer or early adopter with technolgies. I had my first computer in 1980, it was a TRS 80 Model 1 with 4k of RAM. When something is cool to me or interesting I get into it. And when Apple said in 2008 here’s the software kit to help make apps, I told my team we had to make apps. Prior to that I was a fan of The Apprentice – Trump’s show – and I was a fan of YouTube and I had started uploading videos in 2006 and I had this idea in the shower one day to create a real internet reality show in a competitive format kind of like The Apprentice but for the web. I called a joint venture partner of mine and asked if he wanted to produce it with me and he said, “Heck yeah”, the The Next Internet Millionaire came about.
I was on sabbatical in 2011 through the better part of 2013 and around 2012 I wasn’t really working hard, I sold off a couple of my properties and I was getting a little bored but I wasn’t ready to get back to work as I knew it before. So I thought I’d shake things up a little bit and go get a job, and I ended up working one shift a week at a Barnes and Noble.
And then Uber. I enjoyed the uber experience as a passenger and I thought it would be cool to shuttle people around for a week. I did it for a week. So I applied to be an Uber driver, I used my son’s 4-door – because I drive a Mustang – and you can’t Uber in a Mustang, although I wish I could. I put a GoPro camera on the front and I took people for rides to see what it was like, and it was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed it. If it were not for the fact that I have a 2-door and can no longer be an Uber drive, I would probably still maintain a current account and just for the fun of it go online every now and then and take people for rides. It’s just a really fascinating experience.
I think shaking up your paradigm, doing different things, being in the moment and being spontaneous and being like a guy with a pail and a shovel looking for a sandbox to play in can really make for an interesting and exciting life and it opens up all kinds of opportunities. Because the more things I try the more times I fail at it. But the more times I try I have success.
Rich: Alright, so some of the things I heard as you were talking, it sounds like a lot of what you’re doing is you’re willing to experiment. And you’re willing to fail and you’re willing to try new things, which is awesome. Another thing is you seem to change pace as you go along. It seems like some of these great moments came when you were actually kind of taking a break – either a long sabbatical or maybe just in the shower – and you were open to new ideas.
You also had a team, which not all of us have but some of us do, a team of people where you can say, “Hey, I’ve got an idea, can you create this for me and see it through?” And even with the Uber thing, you had a team of people who were working with you or at least a videographer?
Joel: No, that was actually solo up to the point of production. I mounted a GoPro on the dash that you could see me and the passengers and I had a little flip cam in my hand that I sometimes held as I was recording concurrent with the GoPro, or I handed it to the passengers and they would record for me. I think we have a mutual friend in Scott Smith at Motivation To Move podcast, great daily boost podcast, he’s actually got a background in video production. He took all my footage and he put this video together, I would just encourage people to go watch this, it’s a 5-minute piece called Uber Guy. If you go to my blog at joelcomm.com and just search “uber”, you’ll find the blog entry with the video there. He did an incredible job putting it together.
Rich: Well that’s very cool. I’m hearing a lot of cool things and I guess part of what I’m trying to get at, Joel, is where your creativity comes from. Because I think a lot of people who are running businesses and suddenly in charge of marketing their business don’t feel like they have a story to tell and are not sure how to be creative and it seems to come so naturally to you. But there are some things that you seem to be doing or trying to do that’s stimulating this creativity.
Joel: Well there’s an openness to it. I think my attitude towards life is based on an old proverb, “Man plans, God laughs.” My life isn’t what I thought it would look like now at 51 years old, I didn’t see it turning out this way at all. And I definitely didn’t plan to be where I am right now relationally, in business, in my position as an author as a speaker, I just didn’t plan for this. But you look back and you see how things unfolded and I think it’s that openness and willingness to say, “You know what, if I go with the flow and I embrace opportunity as it comes, then I’m more likely to see it when it arrives .” Boy, that’s a little word slag right there, isn’t it? I should write that down, somebody make a note of that.
Rich: You know what, we transcribe this – I have the world’s greatest transcriptionist – she’s going to write this down for you and she’ll send it off to you. You got that, Jennifer?
Joel: I think I just said something that might have actually been halfway smart, I don’t know. So it’s showing up, it’s going to events. I go to events of all kinds because they’re interesting to me, or I’ll go to the game expo or ComiCon. I went to a toy fair in New York in February and brought a video person along to film the experience.
I just got back from IBM Amplify in California where being around the corporate culture and talking to people and networking. So I go to all these different events where it broadens the circle of people that I know. I’m kinda like this guy that stands in the middle of the wheel and spokes shoot off. Over this way and this way is the social media crowd, over this way is the internet marketing crowd, this way is the affiliate marketing, this way is mobile marketing, this way is personal development, this way is tech vc, this way is the Fortune 500’s. And I dance in all these different circles because I show up and I make myself available and I love meeting people, I love discovering where can I play, where can I bring value, where can I plug who I am into what they’re doing and have an impact. And I think that really is the secret, that I’m not chasing after money. I’ve made millions, I’ve lost millions, I know how to make money. Look, money is not the end all, be all. If I’m making enough to pay my bills and enjoy the lifestyle that I have, then I’m a happy man, I’m golden. Having more is always nice, but it is not the key to happiness or eternal peace.
Rich: Alright. So that’s great advice. Sometimes it may not feel that way when you’re struggling and just starting out, however.
Joel: No, I’ve been there.
Rich: We all have. So what would you say to somebody who’s like, “Joel seems like a super creative guy, these ideas just fly out of his butt without any effort at all – even though we both know that’s not true – I’m not creative, I’m not that kind of person.” And maybe you feel like you already answered this, but what would you say to that person if they say they’re not creative and they can’t come up with ideas like that?
Joel: Well first of all you missed the low hanging fruit on the pod when you said ideas fly out of my butt, and I did make the app iFart, so there is that. But first of all, I don’t believe that you’re not creative. If you are an entrepreneur or you’re in marketing then you are creative. You’re wired in a way that says I want to tell stories, and we’re all storytellers. What it’s about is framing your story in a way that’s compelling to your audience and the way you frame it isn’t always what you think is important. You’ve got to look at things from other people’s perspective.
Case in point, when iFart came out you could easily say the way to make this thing go viral is to talk about the app itself and the novelty and how fun it is. But that wasn’t the angle that I took, Rich, What I did is I went to the tech community and I talked about the struggle we were having with getting the app released, and the press releases I put out centered around the fact that Apple was being difficult in approving our app. This is what got people talking, this is what got VentureBeat writing about it first and then this led to TechCrunch. So the story isn’t always the obvious story. You have to think about who will talk about this.
If you don’t feel creative, go take a shower. There’s something about being in the shower that you’re disconnected from media, it’s like an isolation chamber, all that’s there is water beating down on your head and I feel like it stimulates and fires up synapsis. Go for a walk, I walk everyday and sometimes I get my best ideas walking and listening to podcasts or music or talking to friends and just moving my body. There’s this sense of as long as I’m moving and doing something, my brain tends to operate more efficiently.
That’s why right now as we’re doing this interview I could be sitting at my desk, but I don’t like to. I put my earbuds into my iPhone and launched the Skype app and I’m walking around my house. I continually walk while I’m being interviewed and speaking because I feel like I’m more creative when I’m moving.
Rich: Interestingly enough, I’m actually recording my end of the conversation from inside my shower.
Joel: That’s awesome. It’s like an echo chamber. Live from Rich Brooks’s shower…
Rich: Hopefully the sound quality is better than that. So you’ve created a bunch of interesting things and we talked about a few of them, but then you seem to turn them into something. So you’re not just coming up with creative ideas, but you do create something so that they can be shared, experienced, passed around. Do you have a specific way of doing that? I’m thinking of things like you didn’t just decide that you were going to be an Uber driver for a week, you decided to create a video out of it. You didn’t just think farting was funny, you made an app out of it and then you were even creative in the way that you promoted it. How do you take what might be a funny idea and turn this into something that actually could be a moneymaker, could promote your business, or just something that might get shared?
Joel: Great question. I am my brand, I’m at this place in my career now where yes I have some products that I sell, Yes I’ve got books, but ultimately they all point back to Joel selling Joel and how he brings the greatest value. I’m talking about myself in the third person, that’s kind of weird.
So the whole Uber experience I knew from the get go that if I’m going to do this, I’ll need to film it, I need to document it, and I need to make a video. So there was a strategy with that from the beginning. I’m not just going to drive and write about it, I want to show people. I’ve been a fan of video forever, I’m none of those guys that as a kid worked at the video store. Now we’re going back to 1980 back when we had VHS and there was still Betamax and laser discs and Atari was the hot thing.
So I’ve been into electronics and gizmos and making video forever. Before we had video editing software I was making videos for my family just by stop and start and putting music along to it. I uploaded my first YouTube video in 2006 and I was doing live streaming on uStream – a weekly show – The Joel Comm Show in 2008. So video for me has always been a great tool for communication and I do them still, every week or every other week. I’ll do a Walking With Joel video while I’m out and about talking a walk. I’ll pull my phone out because I thought of something I want to share with my audience. So I use my built in selfie stick – my right arm – and I’ll share for a couple minutes my thoughts and then upload it to Facebook and YouTube.
It’s funny because people really connect with this, It’s organic, it’s in the moment, it’s a slice of my life and they want to see more Walking With Joel. I can’t tell you how many times I go to conferences and people tell me they need more Walking With Joel, and I think really, I didn’t think that many people watched it. But it’s simple and there is nothing professional about the production, it’s me holding the camera while walking and talking, that’s it.
Rich: You don’t even have a selfie stick?
Joel: I do but I’m not going to go out for a walk and carry one, it feels dorky to me. I’m a geek but I’m not a dork, there’s a difference.
Rich: Yes, huge difference. So you talked a little about video, let’s just kind of focus on that for a second. You do a lot of video, what type of promotion do you do – or is it all organic – to get more people to watch your videos?
Joel: Most of it is organic. It’s work that I’ve done over the years just building an audience and being social. I do have an email list, it’s not huge but I do have an email list from my blog and when I have a new entry I’ll email that out to them and invite them to come and read and watch. But for the most part it’s just posting on social media. I’ve got my Facebook regular page, I’ve got my fan page, I’ve got Twitter, I’ve got that Google+ thing, I’ve got Instagram and LinkedIn and of course YouTube. So I’ll share where the people are, I go to the water cooler, that’s basically what it is. I go to the water cooler where I know people are gathering and say. “Hey, I got something I want to talk about, interested?”
Rich: When you’re doing these videos, I’m kind of curious, are you doing them to YouTube or are you starting to embrace more of the Facebook videos or now there’s Twitter videos and of course you have Meerkat and Periscope battling it out. Do you have a platform of choice or are you trying them all out right now?
Joel: Everything goes on YouTube, it always has. But now that Facebook has video, I no longer embed YouTubes, I always upload direct to Facebook. I’ll share it on Google+ because it embeds the video there since Google owns YouTube. And for the first time just a couple days ago, I shot a Walking With Joel video that was 2 minutes and so I went to share it on Twitter and you have to clip it to 30 seconds, so I just left the first 30 seconds and put it up with a short tweet and linked to the full video on YouTube. I need to check the stats on that to see how that actually worked.
I love Meerkat, I really like Periscope and just on a whim yesterday I was playing Team Fortress 2 on my computer and I thought I would broadcast stream live me playing this game. And several hundred people tuned in throughout that 30 or 45 minutes that I was streaming. And I love the immediacy of Periscope, I love that you can just launch it and it sends out the tweet and those following it get notified and within 60 seconds you can have 25-30 people watching. I think that’s really cool.
Rich: So how do you – or do you – measure all this creative output that you’re doing and putting out into the universe?
Joel: Apart from the analytics, the obvious low hanging fruit which you can see – likes/comments/shares/views – I don’t really overanalyze this stuff, I just kind of put it out there. If people respond, great. If they don’t, sometimes I’ll take a look and make adjustments to see if it’s really important to me that I think the message really needs to get out there and it hasn’t then I might reframe it. But for the most part I just kind of move on to the next thing. If you just keep putting out enough good stuff out there then magic happens, and it happens organically and I try not to overthink it I try to go with the flow and just let it happen.
Rich: Alright, well as you mentioned some things that you think are more important. What are you passionate about these days? And if somebody is listening on their computer or phone right now, where would you want them to go and learn more about you and what you’re excited about these days?
Joel: The best place to find out what I’m really talking about is my blog at joelcomm.com, if you scroll you’ll see the most recent blog entries there. If I’m writing about it, then it matters to me. I’m not one of those guys that blogs everyday, sometimes I’ll go a couple weeks without saying anything. So when I write it’s because I really wanted to say it. I’m kind of lazy that way, I’m not disciplined with my blog.
Facebook is the place to find out here’s what I’m thinking today, because they’re not long entries I can usually share what I want to share in bite size nuggets and it’s where I get the greatest engagement. And of course the irony there is I’ve got 83,000 Twitter followers and I wrote the book on Twitter, but I’m more engaged on Facebook.
Rich: And do you think that’s just because the platform itself lends itself to better communication these days, or why is that?
Joel: I do. I think Twitter is very powerful – nod to my book title there – and there’s 300 million people that have active accounts there. So if you’re a brand or a personality, if you need to be offering customer service then you need to be engaged on Twitter. But for me the conversation and my tribe tends to run more in the Facebook circle, I think there’s just more opportunity for dialog on Facebook and theor 1.4 billion active users would say the same.
Rich: And I think that also gets back to something you had said earlier about when you’re framing your story it’s not about what’s important to you but it’s about what’s important to them. So if your community is more active on Facebook – even if you happen to like Twitter or Plurk more – you’ve got to go where your community is.
Joel: Absolutely. As for me I’m a Google Wave guy.
Rich: Oh, another blast from the past. Joel this has been great, anywhere else you want to let people know where you’re hanging out these days?
Joel: Well, I’m at my house a lot, but my blog and Facebook. I’m @joelcomm everywhere, I’m the only Joel Comm in the world so if you find somebody with that name then the odds are there’s somebody pretending to be me and you need to report that account.
Rich: Alright, awesome. Joel, thanks so much for your time today.
Joel: My pleasure, Rich. Talk to you.
- Definitely check out the many books Joel has written on such topics as Twitter, Google AdSense, online business and internet marketing, among others.
- Follow Joel on Facebook and Twitter.
- Head on over to Joel’s website to see what else he’s up to and be sure to check out his blog, especially the one he mentioned that included video from his week as an Uber driver.