While working at a cramped Starbucks near a busy university, I couldn’t help overhear a conversation between two people catching up. From what I heard, the one person was a personal nutritionist on the side.

She spoke of a hobby she picked up; Olympic power lifting. She got really good at it. Good enough to place well at some regional competition, apparently.

I’m paraphrasing here, but her reason was thus:

“I wanted to do something that could demonstrate my nutritionist work.”

Anyone can pick up a book and recite its contents with enough study. But it’s another thing entirely to take what you know, add your magic, and hard work, and produce a tangible result.

After leaving AOL Music in 2011 I knew I had the skill-set to help people share stories online. That’s how Skull Toaster was born! I have my resume’ sure, and that says plenty, but Skull Toaster is me showing, “I built a brand from scratch, with an engaged social media following, and a nightly email list with a 40+% open rate since 2012.” Ahem, hiring managers.

The folks at Coudal have been doing this for years. They’ve created plenty of campaigns for clients over the years, but then started making their own products. Why not? They already know how to make websites and ads and Twitter accounts. One of their projects was the Field Notes brand of notebooks, which they did with Aaron Draplin.

“There wasn’t any big corporate plan, or venture capital or a full page ad in the New York Times or anything; we printed up a batch, bought a domain name and let it grow from there.”

Just start. Find people to work with (not ask, “what do you think of this idea?”), and get it going.


I don’t think it’s possible to “do a media site” these days without engaging with an audience. My favorite barometer of this? I can visit most any US city and have lunch with someone. Or crash on their couch. That’s from 10+ years of doing music blogs.

I don’t care about 80k followers. I care about 100 people I can get coffee with.

To move to the next stage in the social media evolution, brands need to start focusing on actively engaging their fans over a sustained period of time. An active fan is one who has a relationship with a brand and, at least once a month, reacts to posts on the brand page, indicates a liking for various content, retweets a brand’s messages or creates original content on the page.

I built Skull Toaster from the ground up based on the idea of engagement. The result? Paid subscribers and merch sales, with no banner ads, no Top 10 lists, and no SEO tactics.

If I can make $1 Tweeting metal trivia, you can increase your income by engaging your customers in human ways.

Coffee shop: engage with your customers about upcoming events and local issues instead of just Tweeting your specials.

Music lessons: send tips and links to artists you admire instead of just “new student specials!”

Musician or label: engage your fans about other stuff: baseball, ‘South Park,’ movies, video games.

Bike shop: engage your customers with amazing bike videos that you find online. Send out photos from recent rides.

It’s about more than hyping what you do (HEY, READ MY POST! WATCH OUR NEW VIDEO! 10% OFF AFTER 5PM!), and just being someone that people want to talk to.

And when people talk to one another, sometimes it leads to sales.

Or at least a coffee.