Men With Pens – Blogging Expert Gets Blogged

by admin on May 11, 2009


Men With Pens

Mostly Canadian, mostly men, Men With Pens is “known across the blogosphere for smokin’ designs, rockin’ content and killer business sense.”  Of course, that’s all on their blog…  Whether they’ve put an extra spin on it or not, however, if their blog is any indication of skill then they’ve definitely earned the title of “Blogging Experts”.

Now, it’s always nice to be able to dig into the heads of individuals in the blogosphere and see what they’re thinking.  That’s why Gabriella and I were so excited to get the chance to interview one of the people behind Men With Pens, James Chartrand (Thank you, James!).  We had a great time writing the questions, he had a great time answering them, and we all hope you enjoy delving into the mind of a blog expert!

James On Social Media

Social media is growing, and everyone seems to think it’s such a great thing, so the first question we asked James was how he felt about it in general.

“Social media is basically a way to interact with people,” was James’s answer, “for pleasure, business or other.  It’s a chance to learn how to talk and listen, how to respond to people’s needs and be there for them.

“I enjoy social media for what it is – a social experience and a chance to get to know people on a more personal level.  For example, I’m an avid Twitter user, hanging out every day to talk, chat, ask questions, get answers… network, basically.  The returns to my business have been very worthwhile, producing a larger following, a spreading of a good reputation and new clients.”

I can definitely attest to that.  As a Twitter user, James ( ) is one of my favorites to follow.  Although most people tend to post anything and everything related to their own site (those in it for the business, aspect, anyway), James seems to post whatever comes to mind, and it always seems to be upbeat and humorous.  But then, we found out he also thinks social media is a bit overrated, which may be why he’s so relaxed about it…

“…it’s a bit of a craze, a buzzword.  What it all comes down to is interacting with people.  There should be more focus on teaching people the social skills they’ve either never learned or forgotten, and less focus on teaching them the tools to be social – no tool is worth its salt if the person operating it doesn’t know how to interact effectively in the first place.” 

From the mouth (okay, hands – he typed the answers) of a blogging expert – “It all comes down to interacting with people.”  Remember that, readers – it’s important for anyone wanting to get into social media, or already trying to do so.

Finally, we started getting into the nitty-gritty of social media – the “behind-the-scenes” if you will. 

The Question:  If you had to pick out one experience with social media (or the social media gurus) that sticks out in your mind, what would it be?  (Positive or negative… or both!)

The Answer: “I’ll pick two – one positive and one negative.  A negative experience involved a self-proclaimed social media expert using Twitter to promote a potentially damaging and libelous post he’d written to gain some press time and five minutes of fame.  He knew word would spread quickly through social media tools.  But, without merit, the post only got a little bit of interest and died off, so no harm done.  These types of people who use social media to be anti-social are dangerous creatures indeed.

“A positive experience that has happened several times is making good friends with people who genuinely seem to care about the work we do and the content we write.  These people cheer for us, spread the word about posts or advice they’ve enjoyed and genuinely make our day better just by being there.  All it took was a few exchanges and voila – a friendly relationship was born.  Those are the kinds of experiences that I’d take any day, and I hope I give some of that back to people as well.”

Now, when thinking about social media gurus, if you’re interested in the area, you’ve probably heard about Guy Kawasaki.  The latest buzz on Guy Kawasaki seems to be all-negative, with automated reputation enhancement, self-serving lectures and a hypocritical outlook topping the list. 

One of the “Twitter rules” Guy pushes is following all of your followers.  We asked James, who has a following of over 2,000 people, if it was really possible to follow all those people.  James says no:

“I’ve spoken out on this subject before, and I don’t believe that following all followers is a good idea if you want to build relationships.  How can you actively interact with so many people?

“I respect Guy a lot, and I do think he does some great things, but personally, having to follow thousands of people turns them into background noise – you cannot actively participate in so many conversations at once in a way that is a pleasant experience for all people involved.  Too many people to follow and all I can do is skim and scan, or grab any person for the moment.

“My preference is to develop solid relationships with people by getting to know them.  I learn about them, follow and read their conversations and interact with them often.  I add people slowly and continue fostering good two-way conversations.  Followers seem to appreciate that ‘get to know you’ time as well!”

James on Copywriting and SEO

A lot of people have been accused of stealing someone else’s written work, but there’s the quote “…nothing new under the sun.”  With all the information available on the Internet and all the websites dealing with the same products, services, areas, etc., we asked James:  Is it really possible to write about new things?  Has it come to the point where everything written is nothing more than regurgitation?

“Good question.  I believe there is nothing new under the sun,” James says, “but I also believe there is only one experience that is brand new to the world, and that’s mine.  The way I live events, see certain situations, live my beliefs and experiment in different ways, are all totally unique to me alone and can’t have been done before nor replicated again beyond action only.

“Everyone’s experience is unique.  We see different angles, have different ideas and perspectives, and we think and behave in different ways.  So while the subjects and topics may already be extensively covered by other people (and thus, became ‘not new’), my personal experience will always be brand new to the world and in that, valuable to teach and help others.”

Definitely a unique perspective, and an argument I’ve never thought of using with those who think writing informational articles is outdated.  We decided to risk it all and ask James about search engine optimization.  Is it a scam?  Does it really work?  Is it just manipulation of the search engines, as some people claim, or is it as legitimate a process as, say, marketing?

“That’s a very good question.  We’ve never focused on SEO.  In fact, a recent consultation with an SEO expert had him say, ‘I have no idea how you managed to get to a PR5 without any attention to SEO at all – and that just goes to prove how great content really does matter.’

“Our site PR, our Alexa and Technorati rankings, our popularity and readership are all achieved naturally.  I check in absently once a month, out of curiosity, at various ranking sites, and that’s about it.  We do have SEO plugins installed on our site, but to be very honest, we stuck in some random keywords, wrote a quick meta description and haven’t done anything much more than that.”

Black Hat, White Hat – is there really a difference or are the labels all just a matter of degree?  How do you really feel about Black Hat?

“The difference only lies in the personal value and belief systems of the individual.  For example, what could be white hat to me (ie, following Google rules) could be silly to someone else who feels that a black hat technique isn’t harmful or immoral.  What is unethical is completely a personal belief that each of us either subscribes to or refutes, and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Who am I to say that so-and-so’s actions are wrong if they fit with his values and beliefs?  They are only wrong for me, and so, I choose which actions and behaviors I’ll have based on my value system.”

A lot of optimizing copywriters think content is the most important part of optimization, which leads to the question:  Do you think a large amount of well-written, relative, informative content do as much for your website (in the long run) as a full SEO campaign?

“Only over the long-term.  If you put up two pieces of writing, one SEOd and one not, the SEO content will achieve more immediate and short term results.  However, if it’s poorly written, empty of useful information or a mush of SEO with no value in the content, then it’s not going to last.  The well-written, value-based content will have far more staying power and eventually overtake the SEO content, given enough time.”

For those of you wondering if this is true, I can attest to it, which is why it’s important that, if you invest in an SEO campaign, you have the writing done by those who know how to do it right.  Stuffing an article full of keywords is not the right way to go about building a knowledge base… but I digress.  Back to the interview:

Is SEO ruining the Internet “experience”? 

“I know that my own research efforts have slowly become a huge waste of time.  When I want to look up information, I have to weed out crap sites, poor articles, empty content and spend too many minutes trying to narrow down the content that might get me what I need and the content that just wants my clicks.

“But you get savvy.  You learn which links not to click on and learn to recognize sites that probably don’t offer much credible information.  You turn to authority sites more and more often to get the information you need.  And yes, you don’t research as much, because you know it’s a chore.

“I will repeat one sentence I hear often when suggesting people look on the Internet for what they need: ‘The Internet is crap.  It’s just a bunch of crap content.’  I can’t say I disagree with their opinions at all, even though the Internet is part of my livelihood.”

James on Life

How has social media affected your personal life…wife, kids, etc?  Do they say something like “You know you’ve been on-line too long when…Your wife drapes a wig over the monitor to remind you of what she looks like.”  How do you balance this career?

“Social media hasn’t affected my personal life in the least.  I make time for the tools I like to use and limit usage based on priorities of the day.  If I have more important things to do, I get them done and socialize after or only briefly. 

“I will say that my answer would have been very different had you asked whether business has affected my personal life!”  We’ll have to remember that for next time…

We also found out that James is one of the lucky ones, enjoying what he does for a living:  If you could do anything else in your life, what would it be?  (Ninja warrior, fighter pilot, fireman, nurse?) 

“To be honest, right now there isn’t anything I’d rather be.  If there were, then I’d be it.  I’ve never been one to hold back from doing what I want to do in life, and I’ve had many careers and hobbies based on those choices.

“Right now, I want to be a successful business entrepreneur, and that’s what I’m doing.  In a few years, maybe I’ll want to be something else and I’ll do that then.  No regrets; it’s the only way to live.  I would like to be able to play guitar a little better, though…  I’m working on it!”

If you could change the way things are on this planet, but you can only make one happen, what would it be… it could be ANYTHING.

“I wish I could help more people not live by their fears.  So often, I see people who let fear control their life, and they’re unhappy because they aren’t living confidently or even taking action despite their fears.  Fear is good, but it should never hold you back.  I wish I could teach more people to do what they want to do without fear dictating their decisions.”

He really is that nice.  We asked him, “If you could spend one evening with anyone in the world, past, present or future who would it be?”  James just replied, “My Dad.”

Our next to last question was, “What’s with the girl at Men With Pens?”  I don’t know about Gabriella, but I was dying to know.  “Someone has to keep us in line,” says James – and I can’t argue with that.

How many interviews has James done?  “Oh, I have no idea how many I’ve done.  20?  More?  Less?  I haven’t kept count at all.  I enjoy interviews and always say yes, and I appreciate the interviews that ask tough questions or questions that I wouldn’t normally be asked.  Yours were fun!”

You can’t go wrong with that.  Thanks James, for taking the time out of your schedule to answer our questions – glad you enjoyed them!


{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Samar May 11, 2009 at 2:12 pm

Great interview guys! James is one of my favourite people to follow on twitter too.

KeHoeff May 28, 2009 at 2:20 pm

hey this is a very interesting article!

admin May 29, 2009 at 9:37 am

Thank you, and thank you for reading! We’re glad you enjoyed it – I know we certainly had fun coming up with the questions.

Charles - Big Idea Blogger June 1, 2009 at 8:17 am

Thanks for the interview! My favorite part is where James say they paid no attention to SEO but still got a PR5. It confirms my belief that we should just focus on valuable content without getting distracted with SEO. Thanks again!

admin June 1, 2009 at 8:39 am

lol, Charles – Valuable content is definitely key to my mind, but, of course, I believe in SEO as well. In fact, valuable content should be a part of any SEO campaign. The blog I wrote on natural writing vs. SEO copywriting clearly defines our views on this subject. If you’re writing about relative information, your keywords should show up in the copy anyway, and in a natural form. No keyword stuffing, no fighting with where to place them, just easy writing and reading.

Thanks for your comment!

Gabriella June 4, 2009 at 5:57 am

I was thrilled that James played with us. He is a great writer and a true gentleman. Now if we can only get his secrets we could be rock stars too. :)

admin June 4, 2009 at 6:40 am

I definitely agree, Gabriella – about James, that is. We have our own secrets, though. lol I humbly submit that we are already rock stars. (did that sound humble?)

Frugawailla June 5, 2009 at 1:34 am

Hi, Congratulations to the site owner for this marvelous work you’ve done. It has lots of useful and interesting data.

admin June 5, 2009 at 6:42 am

Thank you! I’m glad you found it interesting and helpful!

Erick Pettersen June 25, 2009 at 11:28 am

I think SEO content has it’s place; though, optimizing one’s website for Google, or other search engines, depends more than a few keywords, metatags, and links.

It depends on people wanting and searching for what you offer. It really doesn’t matter if you set up a coffee kiosk in the middle of the desert, because desert dwellers want water, not coffee.

So, despite all of the criticism, SEO is not simply about a few keywords. It’s about optimizing your site, your product, your brand, and you to meet the needs of the searcher rather than the search engine.

Oh, and I agree with James that following all of your Twitter followers diminishes the value of Twitter.

Thanks for a great blog-interview


admin June 25, 2009 at 8:47 pm

Thanks for stopping in to comment, Erick. Although I agree with you in part, I have to disagree about the desert dwellers. There is at least one desert dweller that wants coffee in this big, wide world. What you write about, focus your branding efforts on, etc, may have a low amount of searches, yes. However, if you’re selling coffee to desert dwellers, you can guarantee that most of those who hit your site are there with a purpose. To buy the coffee you have located in the desert. Although I understand it was a metaphor, I believe it does apply. There is always at least a few people that want something out of the ordinary. I think if someone could set up a website with nothing but out of the ordinary things, they’d do pretty well.

As far as what SEO is, I whole-heartedly agree. Searchers come first; the search engine (although necessary) should come in a late second.

Thanks again for the comment and for stopping by!

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