Today, I spoke with Lowell Heddings, who is better known online as the How-To Geek and is a part-time writer for Lifehacker. In this interview, Lowell talks about his blog, the significance of being a geek in social media, and why personal branding is important to him.
You started the website How-To Geek back in 2006. Who is your primary audience on the site? Do you have to be a geek already to understand the how-tos?
Our audience is very broad – we’ve got the regular person that just wants to fix some computer problems and learn a few new things all the way to the more tech-savvy reader that likes to read about cool customization tips. We try to use pictures to illustrate how to accomplish a certain task, so even if you have no idea what you are doing, you can still usually follow along and figure it out.
When I started the site back in 2006, it was nearly impossible to find any guides that told you how to do things and also used pictures – sure, you could find how-to videos, but those can be such a pain since you have to constantly pause the video to do the next step. That’s why we decided to lay things out more like an instructional guide, and the results speak for themselves.
What kinds of things can I learn from the How-To Geek?
We’ve got articles covering how to do many things in Windows, Microsoft Office, and other similar topics – but this year we’ve started hiring part-time writers and we’re broadening the scope. We want to cover every topic that a regular person would be interested in, from working with digital images and videos to staying safe online – and of course, we’ll still have all our geeky customization tricks.
Is there an advantage to being a geek in social media?
Honestly I’m not much of a social media player. I’ve gone the opposite direction – we pride ourselves in writing content that is so useful that it has no place on Digg amidst all their worthless random nonsense. Instead, our readers tell their friends and family about our site, they subscribe because the content helps them, and they don’t feel intimidated because we try to be as friendly as possible.
I recently wrote a blog post about the problems with being branded a Social Media Expert. Have you run into any problems?
Since I’m the exact opposite of a social media expert, I’d say that I definitely have no problems in this area… our site is doing very well. Honestly, I think the “old-school” method of creating a great product that people want still applies in the internet age, and too many of the so-called social media experts forget this.
How is personal branding important to you?
Branding is truly important. The How-To Geek site is represented by a smiling cartoon face that’s hard to forget, and we try and keep everything friendly and helpful, all the time. It’s the ingredient that takes a great product and makes it profitable. You’ll notice that I’m not branding myself – the site isn’t about me, it’s about helping the reader. I’m happy to sit quietly in the background and watch the site grow.
Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, is the founder and chief geek behind the How-To Geek website, a part-time writer for Lifehacker, and a full-time programmer at a small research company. After years of furiously working by himself and spending every waking hour in front of a computer, he has finally learned to delegate and train a team of very helpful people to assist him – because even greater challenges are out there, and the How-To Geek needs to take the game to the next level.