30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys

media strategy saturday meme

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: first impressions matter more than ever.

In the old days, you got to know people because they LIVED NEXT TO YOU, or because you saw them at the feed store when you saddled up Bessie and rode there on Saturdays.

These days, you can use the Twitter or the Book of Face to meet people around the world, except for North Korea and some other places where the Series of Tubes is illegal or the secret police only let you use a pirated version of MySpace or whatever.

Online, people make a first impression about your entire life in less than two nanoseconds, based on three tiny little things:

  • your profile photo
  • your handle
  • your bio

Sidenote:  If you don’t understand the headline reference to Achy Breaky Big Mistakey, here’s the original Billy Ray Cyrus video and a link to Mullet Junky, which is guaranteed to make you feel better about your hair. Enjoy.

So, instead of giving you five big Twitter boo-boos, or seven, I’m giving you 30 dumb moves to avoid on the Twitter — ten no-no’s apiece when it comes to your profile photo, your handle and your bio.

I believe, deep in my soul, that ten times three equals thirty, or possibly 30, depending on whether you use the metric system and what edition of the AP Stylebook you sleep with.

Top 10 achy breaky big mistakeys with your profile photo

You see the worst ones on Facebook, but Twitter is not immune from wacky profile photos.

Do not:

1) Make the duck face

2) Try to be sexy

3) Flash gang signs with your hat on sideways

4) Take off your shirt to show us your tattoos or how much you enjoy fake orange Oompa Loompa spray tanning (it makes you look like a reject from Jersey Shore)

5) Pretend to chug tequila or smoke the Biggest Blunt Known to Man

6) Make the duck face while trying to be sexy, flashing gang signs with your hat on sideways, showing us your tattoos and pretending to chug tequila

7) Use a self-portrait shot on your phone, using the mirror in the bathroom (we can tell, and yes, Mirror in the Bathroom is a good tune from the GROSSE POINT BLANK soundtrack)

8) Go with extreme close-up (I see your pores!) or incredible longshot (that might be a person, or Bigfoot) or a weird angle (up your nose)

9) Use a shot with two / four / six different people and make us guess which one you might be

10) Wear sunglasses, hats and other accessories that make it impossible to tell if you’re a 12-year-old girl, a 35-year-old man or a wax dummy

Basically, don’t freak people out or make people guess who you are. And don’t try too hard.

Now, there are some variations that aren’t bad. Random photos and symbols are sometimes bad, but not always. If you’re a writer or editor, go ahead and use a photo of books as your profile shebang. Totally fine. Actors can use the Hollywood sign or the comedy and tragedy masks. WE TOTALLY GET THAT. But the weirder you get, the weirder your first impression will be.

Also: A huge STAR WARS geek can use Yoda as a profile photo. Just remember the first impression — even if you’re a 6-foot-tall redheaded supermodel — will be that you’re a short, 900-year-old frog-thing with wrinkled skin. It is not really a surprise, or remotely cool, for men to be use photos of THE MATRIX, lightsabers, Captain Kirk or Call of Duty 17: Blowing Up Stuff on Mars.  Yet it is unexpected, and therefore kinda cool, for women to be into comic books, Spock, anime and all the things that would make you say “dorkahedron who lives in mom’s basement” if a man picked it for his profile shot. This is a paradox, and possibly unfair, but tough noogies. (My AP Stylebook is silent on the correct spelling of “noogies,” so by my reckoning, I’m establishing the correct spelling right here and now, for all time.)

Top 10 achy breaky big mistakes with your handle

Also known as your name, moniker, nickname, special badge for the Series of Tubes and “what Keanu Reeves is supposed to call you when you jack into the Matrix.”

This is more of a Twitter thing, though these 10 achy breaky big mistakeys also apply to what you pick as your email address, blog title or any visible tattoo involving the alphabet rather than a drawing of Wolverine riding a My Little Pony.

Do not:

1) Use a handle that nobody can pronounce,  like “puqnI’loD,” the Klingon word for grandson (I looked that up at Klingon Language Institute, which actually exists, and this fact frightens me)

2) Throw in a bunch of slang numbers in your handle like “2legit2quit,” unless you are, in fact, MC Hammer

3) Use lots of random numbers, because everybody really, really wants to be buddies with “fred349829402”

4) Get your full first, middle, last name and favorite hobby in there, aka “LauraIngridHasselbackLOVEShorses”

5) Use initials or whatever to make it completely impossible to know whether you’re a man, woman or cyborg from the future sent to kill Sarah Connor (there is actual science here, and not just me spouting off, but that is a post for another day)

6) Be so obsessed with pimping your business, book, movie or album that your handle is simply the name of your business, book, movie or album, and once you move on to the next project, you’ll abandon that handle anyway

7) Put serious TMI into your handle, as in “singlemomthinksmenSTINK” or “stillunemployedyear3” or “livinginmomsbasementplayingcallofdutyallday”

8) Get all lovey dovey with a handle that’s a bunch of mushy nonsense about your husband, wife, kids, dog, ferret, capuchin monkey or boa constrictor, as in “debbie+fluffy4evah”

9) Appropriate the name of a celebrity, unless it’s to make fun of Snooki, Jonathan Franzen, Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, Donald Trump or any of the “Real Housewives of I Don’t Care” — and yes, you should follow @EmperorFranzen and @English50cent

10) Try to be funny with some kind of gag handle, a la Bart Simpson and “@ipfreeley”

Top 10 achy breaky mistakes with your bio

It’s hard to screw up when you only have 160-characters or whatever.

Despite this challenge, there are bazillions of bios out there which are assaults upon the English language and, left unchecked, will not only tear the very fabric of society, but will rip a hole in the space-time continuum, sending Jean-Claude Van Damme back in time to battle an ancient Schwarzenegger in TERMINATOR 9: NIGHTMARE AT THE NURSING HOME.

Do not:

1) Try to give your life history, in chronological order, using Every Abbreviation Known to Man

2) Claim to be a pro photographer, Olympic gymnast, black belt in Gracie jujitsu, supermodel, billionaire CEO, secret agent, actor, bodyguard and author who also drives Indy cars–we might believe two of those, maybe three if we’re drunk, but not six or nine

3) Throw in a bunch of wacky symbols and graphics that nobody understands, or use numb3rs & txtspk 2 say what8vr u cld say uzn wrds

4) Share TMI details that nobody needs to know, like how many times you’ve been married and divorced, how many kids you have or the nicknames of your seven most favorite cats

5) Treat the Twitter, the Book of Face or any other social media shebang like it’s a dating website, telling us how you enjoy slow dances, long walks on the beach and all that nonsense — and as a bonus, here is the worst bio page ever

6) Expect us to believe you live on nine different continents by listing your “location” as “London, Moscow, Tokyo, Kenya, NYC, Antarctica, LA and the International Space Station” (yes, somebody is going to comment with a link to Wikipedia proving there are only seven continents)

7) Get all cute with your location by saying, “in limbo” or “everywhere but nowhere” or “right behind you”

8) Turn it into a resume with where you went to college, a summary of skills and your career goals–please save all that for LinkedIn and such

9) Make it completely obscure by writing it in French when you are NOT FRENCH AT ALL, using a Gertrude Stein poem instead of a bio, wussing out by using a quote from a famous person — or Capitalizing Every Word Of The Entire Bio While Not Understanding That People Actually Want To Be Able To Read The Stupid Thing Without Getting A Migraine

10) Trying to be shocking by saying insanely offensive things while packing all seven of the FCC’s seven dirty works in there and working very hard to make your profile form an obscene gesture using ASCII art nonsense

In the future

Will I  do the same sort of post for the Book of Face? Nope. Sorry. I do this for fun, and for free, and the Book of Face keeps getting breached by hackers and such, so I’m kinda mad at Zuckerberg and all that.

Also in the future: There will be robots that mow your lawn and space-age looking trikes that turn into flying cars. Just wait. Are you done waiting? Here you go. If Daniel Craig doesn’t already have one of these, he’ll steal one this weekend.

News junky, heal thyself

Listen: I get how watching the news right now is like a train wreck, except each new day brings a bigger, more fiery train wreck than the day before. And you just want it to stop, and go back to normal, but can’t turn away.

As a reformed journalist, I’m a complete and utter news addict. Went to rehab–didn’t help one bit.

So I feel you.

Here’s what is really going on.

Chaos and confusion

In normal times, a scandal is big news for weeks or months. One large scandal can easily end a political career, or bring a CEO down.

What’s happening now is a flood of scandals and outrages, and yes, part of that is because the world’s most powerful man is a moody, incompetent toddler. But it’s also by design.

Vladimir Putin has a large country with a tiny economy. He can’t beat the West in economics, or even in a straight military conflict. What he’s doing is sowing discord, distrust and chaos through lies, misinformation and propaganda.

Brexit and Donald Trump are only two examples. Look hard enough–or listen to the intelligence community pros and reporters who cover national security–and you’ll see evidence of this information war being waged all over the free world.

Putin + Trump = a perfect marriage

Putin’s strategy is perfectly aligned with what Donald Trump has done his entire life: use conflict and chaos to build his name ID and get press coverage. The twist is, Trump didn’t care whether the coverage was good or bad, as long as they spelled his name right. Affairs, divorces, scandals–didn’t matter. Just get him on the front page or the Howard Stern show.

Working in reality TV only cemented this strategy. If everything goes right on a reality show, the ratings stink. What sells? Conflict and chaos, betrayals and big fights. 

And when there’s a new political scandal or outrage every day, it’s hard to remember the seven train wrecks from last week, or last month. 

Attacking the media

The other half of this is attacking the foundations of truth–the free press–while trafficking in lies, misinformation and propaganda.

They want average people to be numb and apathetic, and to mistrust what’s coming from real journalists.

To create doubt and fear.

What you can do

It’s easy to get hooked on the news in times like this. It feels like the middle of a presidential primary, the days before a Super Bowl, the first moments of a war. 

When you care about something, getting glued to the screen is easy. 

I’m not saying you ignore the news, quitting it cold turkey.

The trick is balancing out gathering information, and being informed, with taking action.

Because gathering info in a time like this can never end. There’s always a new scandal, another angle you hadn’t considered, a rabbit hole to go down.

The more you care, the more you tend to read and watch, and it certainly feels like you’re doing something.

Except it’s not actually taking action, and it’ll take average people refusing to be apathetic to bring things back to normal.

Elections alone won’t win this kind of fight, especially if you live in a country where elections are partially or fully rigged. 

Check out this chapter for more on Winning the War on Truth.

Social media experiments–the good, the bad and the ugly

Listen: the best place to do testing is where it doesn’t really matter, and that includes experiments on social media platforms like WordPress and Twitter

This silly blog is a good example of that.

So let’s talk, you and I, about what’s works, what doesn’t and what we all can learn.

Lesson 1: Start small

When you first start a blog, or hop onto a social media platform like Twitter, there’s no guarantee that you’ll (a) like it, (b) become good at it, (c) the thing won’t go bankrupt or (d) it may get bought by Apple, Google or Microsoft and get folded into some other app.

Whatever you try on social media, it’s good to start small.

I started this blog to sell a car. Seriously. Didn’t know a craigslist ad disappeared after a couple weeks or whatever and the ad needed a free home. My genius sister said “WordPress, fool” and that ad went viral.

Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?

Doing a premium account from the start would’ve been a mistake. 

I had to learn WordPress for a while before moving to a premium account and messing around with themes and such.

Same with Twitter and Facebook.

Start with a free account whenever you can and explore it fully before doing more.

Doing posts about books, movies and zombies truly helped me get good enough at WordPress to make new sites for other stuff, things that mattered, without a lot of sweat. And sure, after a while, go deeper. Just don’t try to learn how to swim in the deep end of the pool. Won’t work out.

Lesson 2: Try all kinds of things, relentlessly and constantly

There’s a ton of conflicting advice out there about any topic today. That includes social media.

Check them all out, then try out all kinds of things.

Just don’t think that once you figure out a process, you’re good to go for years.

The Series of Tubes isn’t like that. It’s always changing. Because of that, it’s smart to constantly switch things up. Remember that you’re doing experiments, which should be temporary unless they work like gangbusters.

Example: I tried a thing that sent a DM to to thank everybody who followed me on Twitter, and that was a big, giant NOOOOO. People hate DM’s with the passion of a billion burning suns. Experiment over.

Photos turned out to be a great experiment gone right. Now, every post I do has a feature photo, and I’m sticking more and more photos and video into everything I do. There’s research on this. They put Pulitzer-prize winning text on a page with no photos or graphics, then complete drivel on a page with a nice layout and a photo. What did people like better? The drivel with a photo. We are visual creatures, people. Visual visual visual.

Bottom line: You learn more by trying all kinds of things than by doing the same old thing. It’s more fun and more effective.

Lesson 3: Don’t get distracted–remember your core priority

I truly doubt that more than 1 percent of you make a living doing social media.

Remember that messing around with your blog, or posting to Twitter, can easily suck up all your free time.

If you’re a writer, it’s wise to do your writing first. Only play around with Twitter and such after you’ve gotten that daily word count nailed.

And try to think back to the real point of it all. It takes a crazy amount of traffic (and usually staff) to make a living off web traffic by getting millions of hits a month. First, you won’t ever get that. Second, you’re shouldn’t try, because that’s not the point. Most of us are doing social media to be SOCIAL–to write about what we love and meet people around the world who are into the same exact things, whether it’s Underwood typwriters from 1934 or knit hats for cats.  

P.S. I did recently go from Premium WordPress to Business, to try some things out. Will report back on those experiments, including instant translations of the blog to many languages, which is why I’m suddenly getting traffic from Bulgaria and such, along with other craziness. Good times.

Five pro-tips for Twitter, because conventional wisdom is dead wrong

i know a guy who knows a guy who knows another guy

Note: First, let’s celebrate the fact that Alex Jones just got kicked off Twitter forever and ever, which means he’ll be screaming into the void for a long time. Praise the gods. Now onto the meat of this post.

Listen: the advice you see on the Series of Tubes isn’t just bad. All too often, it’s seriously, tragically wrong.

Good info is quickly outdated, especially if it’s about social media.

Even if you do your due diligence–say that three times fast–and read seven different articles about best practices, it may not help.

Whatever article you read will typically be one of three things: (a) conventional wisdom, meaning it’s standard fluff which will get you standard, meh results, (b) bland instruction-manual drivel that won’t help you unless you’re hopeless with technology or (c) some kind of smooth come-on pivoting to a pitch for you to spend $199 on an app or service that promises the moon.

I’m not selling anything.

HOWEVER: I love Twitter, despite its flaws. Nothing is better for learning about breaking news, exploring your favorite niche and making friends.

So let’s talk smack.

1) Don’t treat Twitter like Facebook

Facebook is for friends and family you already have. You don’t take friend requests from 5,492 strangers on Facebook because hey, I’m not letting those people see family photos and all that. There’s a higher barrier to making connections.

Twitter is like a friendly bar where the drinks are always free.

The barriers are low to non-existent. I don’t risk or lose anything by making new connections.

Posts that make sense on Facebook don’t work on Twitter and vice versa.

Facebook is about memories and moments and relationships. Good posts are timeless.

Twitter is about now now NOW, and tweets have an incredibly short half-life. (Note: HALF-LIFE 3 is never happening. Valve simply enjoys teasing and torturing you, and they’ll keep doing it forever.)

On the Book of Face, it’s fine to share personal moments–though don’t get too TMI and become Complainy McComplainface–because your friends and family already know and care about you. So yeah, the clip of your daughter tasting ice cream for the first time is hella cute.

On the Twitter, people will wonder why some dude with Yoda as their avi is putting up shaky video of their labrodoodle puking up two pounds of Easter chocolate on the living room rug.

2) Facebook a little, tweet a lot

You could post on Facebook a couple times a week, or once a day, and nobody would bat an eye. Pretty normal.

Once a month and people will wonder if you’ve gone into hiding.

If you posted on Facebook five to ten times a day, people would start avoiding you like that neighbor who always comes over to chat and won’t escape after an hour of yakking about something you don’t like or understand, like cricket.

The rules are reversed for Twitter.

Post once a day and most people won’t see the post.

Post once a week and congratulations, you’ve invented an invisibility cloak. Patent that thing.

Twitter feeds scroll by crazy fast. Unless somebody follows you, or the hashtags you’re using, and is online THAT VERY SECOND, they won’t see your post. (This is true even though Twitter changed its algorithms to be more like Facebook so your absolute besties on Twitter will see your stuff more often with the IN CASE YOU MISSED IT shebang. However, 99 percent of people will not see your posts unless they’re staring at the screen right that second, which is not happening. The math starts getting cray cray. Say you have 2,000 followers. It’s a good bet maybe 200 of them, max, will say any random tweet you post. Then we get into the standard ratios: If 200 people see it, 20 will actually read it and 2 will respond.)

It’s smart to tweet five or ten times a day. No problem. Because even then, only a minority of your followers will even see it.

3) Forget the usual advice on who, and how, to follow

Conventional wisdom goes like this: figure out hashtags for things you love, or whatever your niche is, and follow scads of people with that hashtag in their bio.

No.

Here’s why this doesn’t get the job done: (a) you’ll miss a ton of people who post to that hashtag and skip having it in their bio, (b) you’ll wind up following an army of zombie twitter accounts of people who have your hashtags in their bio but haven’t tweeted since 1977, and yes, I know Twitter didn’t exist, this is a Dad Joke, just go with it and (c) most of the live accounts you do follow with that hashtag won’t be that active.

Who do you want to follow?

Not just people who care about your special niche, whether it’s Hand-Stitched Hats for Cats or novels about Men in Kilts and the Women Who Love Them.

You want interesting people in that hashtag who are huge fans or experts. You want people who are actually on Twitter a lot, and not as lurkers, but chatterbugs. And you want people who are friendly and take the time to talk with other people, not just use Twitter as a vehicle for self-promotion.

Instead of the hashtag bio thing, this is what you do: Search for a keyword (doesn’t have to be a hashtag) or phrase in the Twitter search box. Look through the most recent tweets about that subject and follow people who are tweeting about it, and talking to each other, RIGHT NOW.

That way, you know it’s not a zombie account. You know if they’re actually having conversations with other people or just pumping out content.

Then follow the friendliest people who like talking about what you love.

4) Never troll, and never feed the trolls

Let’s say somebody invited you to their home for a party. They’re providing the food and wine. You just have to show up.

And let’s say you told them their house is too small, their Ford Explorer sucks and their kids are ugly. You’re gonna get kicked out of the party. Maybe punched in the face.

Sure, being a troll can get you attention. The wrong kind of attention.

There’s a difference between being famous and being infamous.

Still, you’ll run into plenty of trolls on Twitter and other corners of the Series of Tubes, and there’s only one strategy that works.

Ignore them.

No matter what they do or say, never, ever respond. Not once.

Blocking them is fine, because you never have to deal with their nonsense.

Muting them is far more evil and enjoyable, since they’ll keep shouting into the void and won’t understand why you’re an unmovable rock. Why they can’t provoke you, no matter how insane they get.

Mute away. It’s pure torture for trolls.

Also, what Ken M. does isn’t really trolling. He’s a derp, and plenty funny.

5) Retweet, respond and comment 80 percent of the time

With the Book of Face and other platforms, if you’re only posting a few times a week, or once a day, it’s fine to use that one shot to say the thing you really need to say. Go ahead and post that video of Sue Bird losing her mind in the fourth quarter and hitting threes from downtown Tacoma, or put in a link to your latest blog post.

On the Twitter, try to retweet, respond and comment four times for every other thing you say. (Yes, the math works out. Four-to-one works out to 80 percent. I didn’t even bust out the calculator, that’s how certain I am.)

Because like I said earlier, Twitter is like a bar where the drinks are free. There’s nothing friendlier than liking, retweeting and commenting what other people post. And there’s nothing more self-absorbed and lame than only talking about yourself. Wouldn’t fly in real life, even if we were actually in a bar and had done six shots of really good tequila in the last two hours when you said, “Enough about me. What do YOU think about me?”

And that’s the final lesson. All media, including social media, goes back to a basic rule of rhetoric: it’s not about you.

It’s never about you.

It’s always, always about your audience.

Why this video has ALL the secret ingredients to go crazy viral

If that little 3-minute clip didn’t make you tear up a little, nothing will.

Here’s why this video has such viral power:

Sure, it features dogs, and cats, two common ingredients for getting spread all over the interwebs.

Anyone with (a) a working phone and (b) a dog or cat can easily film the furry pookie on a given day and (c) catch them doing silly things.

Most dog and cat videos are simply that: little sketches. Cats knocking things off counters. Dogs getting the zoomies or being derps. Slapstick, the oldest and most primitive form of comedy.

The story of the Takis shelter is much deeper.

There’s an actual narrative arc, with good storytelling structure. One of the few times real life matches up with Hollywood.

In the end, it’s a story of sacrifice and redemption, starting with happenstance.

He didn’t wake up one day and decide to sell everything he owned to help dogs and cats starving in a garbage dump. This began when he randomly found one dog.

And it’s not a smooth path. Even after he gets the shelter going, the finances don’t work and he has to shut it down–until average people step up to donate, and to start adopting these animals.

This is a story about redemption, and how life is about something bigger than yourself.

And that gives is more power and beauty than your average compilation clip of ninja cats ambushing toddlers.

The Series of Tubes is not a strategy

media strategy saturday meme

It pains me to see folks place all their faith in the Series of Tubes, whether they’re trying to bust into Hollywood, sell books about Men in Kilts or make a living playing punk rock songs with only three chords.

It’s no skin off my nose if they stubbornly keep on doing it.

As somebody who believes in science, and numbers, and doing whatever works, I’ll just say this: the Series of Tubes is useful for making friends and other things — but it is not a strategy and it is not a plan, not even for Internet Tough Guys.

internet tough guy as a child
This is your standard Internet Tough Guy as a child, deep into his training.

Here’s the thing: to persuade 10 people, you have to reach thousands–and to persuade thousands, you have to reach millions.

Which means using mass media, which is a completely different animal than social media or social networking.

Digital alone isn’t a strategy. It’s one piece.

There was a good Seattle blog, staffed with professional journalists and getting 400,000 hits a month, and that wasn’t enough to keep it afloat. Because internet hits may seem impressive, but they can be cheap and fleeting.

Truly reaching an audience means going to where they are, which isn’t your website, Twitter feed, Instagram home or whatever corner of the interwebs you prefer.

  • Some people rely on the radio. Maybe they’re like me and drive far to get to work and home every day.
  • Other folks read their local newspaper every morning with coffee, a ritual that I believe to be sacred and noble.
  • And yes, there are people who still use their television, even if it’s hooked up to cable, Hulu, Netflix or whatever else is hot this week.

The bottom line is this: If you made a pie chart of where people get their news and entertainment, it would be insanely fragmented. Digital is an important, modern slice, sure. But it’s just a slice.

A real media strategy, a smart one, touches every corner of that media pie.

Not one or two slices. Every one.

Quirks and legs beat the pants off talent and perfection

media strategy saturday meme

Hear me now and believe me later in the week:

  • Flaws and quirks beat absolute perfection
  • The package matters more than the product
  • Without legs, you are dead in the water

And now I’ll prove those three things to you with one word, a word that you will definitely recognize and understand.

Ready?

Here’s that word: SNOOKI.

Does Snooki (real name: I don’t care) have flaws and quirks? Oh yes. She and every other member of Jersey Shore had a solitary talent: creating constant drama, if not fiery train wrecks.

Conventional wisdom is that talent trumps all. This is America, right? The cream rises to the top. No way will somebody like Snooki get magazine covers.

HOWEVER: Just a few miles from the Jersey Shore are 5.82 bazillion Broadway actresses who have more talent, beauty and brains in their pinky fingers than Snooki and all her castmates combined. Some of these Broadway stars approach perfection, being triple threats who can sing, dance and act while looking like supermodels.

Talent alone, though, doesn’t make them into stars.

Are they hidden gems? You can’t say that. They’re on Broadway, seen by millions of locals and tourists in one of the biggest media markets in the world.

If the people who place all of their faith in the viral power of the Series of Tubes were right, all that overwhelming talent plus a few tweets and YouTube videos would be launching people from Broadway into the stratosphere, week after week.

Except that doesn’t happen.

Instead, we have People covers of Snooki getting pregnant and wall-to-wall coverage about the Kardashians, who really need some alone time before we beg Elon Musk to send them all on his first manned mission to Mars.

Here’s why.

Flaws and quirks beat absolute perfection

In the old days, back when we had these things called “papers of news,” some papers ran an interesting contest. Out of a page full of photos of pretty women, the game was picking not your favorite, but the photo you predicted OTHER READERS would choose.

Much more interesting. In the first case, it’s your preference. Maybe you like blondes with short hair. Who knows? Who cares?

The second question — which photo will the most readers choose? — is a lot more fun. It’s the same game played by Hollywood talent scouts, music industry execs, literary agents and model agencies. Put yourself in the shoes of a diverse audience, young and old, city slickers and cowboys. Now bet your career and livelihood by picking not who you like the best, but who you think average people would pay money to like.

With the old newspaper contests, readers went with quirks and flaws. If there was only one redhead on the page, picking her was smart. Because she stood out.

Think about some of the most famous supermodels. Lauren Hutton had a big gap between her teeth. Cindy Crawford had her mole.

When everybody seems equally perfect and wonderful, a little quirk or flaw makes them interesting. Flaws and quirks let them stand out from the crowd and gives the audience somebody to identify with, because average Joe and Jane Sixpack aren’t perfect, either.

A related idea is that quirks and flaws — even train wrecks — attract attention.

If you’re perfectly talented and perfectly balanced and sane, you’ll never make the news for (a) getting married and divorced every 72 days, (b) having spats with other stars, (c) being arrested for being a drunken idiot or (d) going into rehab.

Robert Downey, Jr. is the perfect example of this.

Downey is a supremely talented actor. If he had a perfect personal life, you might hate him. You’d want to see him brought down to earth off his pedestal of perfection. On the other hand, if Downey was drinking Charlie Sheen‘s tiger blood nonsense, you’d dismiss him as an idiot. Instead, people admire Downey for getting clean and sober, because everybody loves a redemption story. He still has an edge — plus flaws and quirky charm — but he’s no Sheen, who’s turned into a punchline.

Contrast also works. If you see somebody who looks great, it raises expectations. Time after time, an ugly duckling has shown up on stage at Britain’s Got Talent, underwhelming anyone watching until they opened their mouths and MADE PEOPLE CRY.

Here is Paul Notts, who definitely played the part of the ugly duckling. And the crowd loves him.

The package matters more than the product

The average person in the 1970s was exposed to about 500 ads per day. Today, it’s up to 5,000 ads per day, all professionally designed by Don Draper  to persuade you that yes, you have to buy that widget RIGHT NOW.

It’s no exaggeration to say that a 1 percent response rate isn’t failure at all. That’s pretty dang good.

If the pros are happy to get something like 1 percent, don’t think that you are somehow immune from the mathematics. Your package has to be amazing to break through all that clutter.Because people are more media savvy than ever. They have to be. If people weren’t such hard targets, they’d blow the mortgage money on a garage full of Shamwows.

This is why you can’t think, “I have 15,000 blog readers and 22,000 Twitter follows, so if they all buy my book / album / fingerpainted portraits of dogs dressed like Elvis, I’m home free.” Not after you do the math. 1 percent of 15,000 + 22,000 = 370.

Packaging is so important that it actually subverts true talent.

Malcolm Gladwell tells a great story in BLINK about classical musicians in professional symphonies. Used to be, the conductor watched people try out. Then he picked who’d be first violin and all that. For the sake of fairness, symphonies switched to having musicians play behind a screen. You couldn’t see who it was. What they sound like is all that mattered anyway, right?

This little change turned classical music upside down. Conductors freaked out, because they were picking women for manly instruments like the tuba, things they believed women couldn’t possibly have the strength or lung power to play.

Also, some people looked terrible when they played, but sounded great. Other people were good-looking and looked great when they played, but they actually sounded bad, when you couldn’t see them.

The screen turned off the connection between our eyes, our ears and our brain.

It’s the same thing that happens when you’re sick and can’t smell. Food tastes entirely differently. Taste isn’t all in the tongue.

Here’s the other thing: a conductor can tell the difference between a room packed with world-class violinists, but you and I can’t.

A professional food taster can tell you insane things about packages of Oreos, down to which factory produced the additives and flavorings. You and I can’t do that.

A scout for the New York Jets could talk to you for hours about how Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are totally different quarterbacks, but to you and me, all we know is they’re both really good and that Peyton has a younger brother who looks like he’s still 12 and plays for the New Jersey/A football team. The intricate technical details about how each quarterback handles seven-step drops when facing a corner blitz, well, that’s beyond our ken. Sidenote: I don’t even know if “ken” is a word anymore.

The point is, when we’re talking about the top .01 percent of talented people, doing whatever those talented people do, the package is more important than the product.

That’s because the professionals who pick winners and losers do have strong opinions, often about technical, high-level stuff, yet those opinions actually don’t matter at all to the people who matter most, which is you and me, Joe and Jane Consumer, who actually buy the movie tickets / books about sparkly vampires (please don’t) / and music singles on iTunes.

The only opinions that truly matter are the uneducated ones.

We don’t care that professionals in the music industry say Madonna and sixteen other pop divas have weak voices. Our eyes are hooked up to our brain, which also communicates with our ears. The whole package matters, not just the voice. So the showmanship of Madonna makes her a star when a zillion other singers with better pipes fail.

Unlike the symphony tryouts, there is no screen in real life.

You can take it further. There are all kinds of actresses and professional athletes who put out albums that objectively stink. Yet they sell far more copies than they should simply because their name ID is crazy high. They know how the publicity game works. And so they get more attention, and sales, than musicians with far more talent who will toil in obscurity.

A great package (name ID, flaws, quirks, drama) + poor talent beats the heck out of great talent + poor packaging (no name ID, no flaws or quirks, no drama).

The same is true of actors, writers and artists. This is why obscure artists suddenly sell all kinds of paintings and such when they die. Their name is finally in the news, probably for the first time. There’s all kind of talent hiding around the corner that you never see.

An easy example: go to your county fair in the summer and check out the arts and crafts displays. I shoot photos and know enough to be dangerous and listen, I was really impressed by all the kids who won ribbons for photos. Then I scooted over to the adult photo winners. Mind blown. Great shots, including a bunch people took all over the world. But you’ll never learn their names or see their work.

Without legs, you are dead in the water

Though I kinda sorta hate reality TV, it is the best possible laboratory for testing evil theories about media and publicity.

The structure of different reality shows makes stars out of people like Snooki and Kim Kardashian while denying fame and fortune to other people with more actual talent and potential.

Here’s why: legs.

Survivor is one of the original reality TV hits, and you probably remember the first guy who won it, the naked man, Hatch, right? (I am not certain about his first name, and yes, the Series of Tubes would tell me, but I believe “naked man” and “Hatch” is close enough.) Hatch was an interesting villain, and villains stick in our head better than heroes. But aside from getting in the news for going to prison (train wreck!), Hatch pretty much disappeared.

Same thing with Rupert, a bearded pirate hero who was on Survivor: Some Island Where It is Hot. Great character. Should have been a star. But except for some kind of Survivor All-Star thing, Rupert also disappeared.

Why? Because the structure of Survivor doesn’t give anybody legs. Except for the rare times they bring back people for a second go, you are one-and-done.

Jersey Shore, Basketball Wives and even the crazy stuff on Discovery (Mythbusters, Storage Wars, Southern Men Who Put Their Hands Into Swamps to Catch Man-Eating Catfish) have given us breakout stars not because those people are far more talented. It’s because the structure of those shows gives them legs.

They aren’t one-and-done. The people on those shows are on the Glowing Tube season after season after season.

And it is no mistake that we’re talking entirely about the Glowing Tube so far.

Movies are typically one shots. Unless you’re in a crazy successful series like STAR WARS or HARRY POTTER, a movie doesn’t typically have enough legs to get you even to Snooki status. You’re lucky to get ONE sequel, and that means people see the first movie and see the sequel about two years later. If you’re insanely lucky, there’s a third movie, at least another year or two after that.

This is why TV is king.

First, because instead of once a year with a movie, people can see you every week.

Second, because unlike all other forms of media, the Glowing Tube automatically generates all kinds of extra coverage in newspapers and magazines, blogs and radio, social media and regular old water cooler BSing.

Not accidentally. Automatically.

Sure, they talk about movies and books on the radio when I drive to work, but mostly, they’re talking about TV shows.

So let’s look at American Idol for a second. Actual talent. Big exposure. But it’s one-and-done, right? That should blow my evil theory out of the water.

Except the producers of American Idol understand that their newborn and freshly hatched stars needed steady exposure. They understand the need for legs. So after the season is over, not only does the winner (and some also-rans) have albums released in a hurry. They also send the winner and runner-ups on a big long concert tour and bring them back, repeatedly, to sing on later seasons and such.

They get it. Talent without legs is powerless.

Why Facebook friends, Twitter followers and blog hits don’t actually matter

media strategy saturday meme

Hear me now and believe me later in the week:

  • Blog hits don’t really matter.
  • Most people actively trying to collecting bazillions of Facebook “friends” are wasting everybody’s time, including their own.
  • Your number of Twitter followers doesn’t mean diddly.

Just saying these things is heresy to Internet Fanboys, who believe nothing is more powerful than the series of tubes.

If they can only find a way to implant a USB 3.0 socket in the back of their skull, they’ll be able to jack into the Matrix, do insane kung fu kicks and stop bullets JUST BY THINKING ABOUT IT, but they’re too busy looking at the woman in the red dress that they never leave the keyboard, go out in the real world and, I don’t know, kiss an actual girl.

Am I saying unplug from the series of tubes entirely? No. The internets, they are useful for many things.

I’m saying the real world is ALSO useful for many more things.

Why blog hits don’t matter

Everybody wants to be read. I mean, it’s sad to start a blog, put time and effort into writing great posts and have virtually no traffic.

However: let’s get practical.

When I started my old blog, it was to serve a specific purpose: a permanent home for the craigslist ad to sell the Epic Black Car.

WordPress is free. My sister, who is a flipping genius, told me that she loved working with the WordPress, that it was easy and fun. So I popped the ad on there, threw some photos in the craigslist ad and thought nothing of it.

Did it really matter whether I had 50 visitors a day, 500 or 5,000?

No. Not at all. Really, I wanted to sell one car to one person. Once.

The fact that silly ad went viral didn’t matter. Fun? Sure. But that’s all.

Now, our brains aren’t wired to be that logical and practical. We all have egos, which like attention and get all sad if nobody shows up. WHO WILL PAY FOR OUR THERAPY? Continue reading “Why Facebook friends, Twitter followers and blog hits don’t actually matter”

Trump’s trouble with Twitter

You’d think that being president of the United States is enough of a bully pulpit, seeing how whatever you say or do gets reported and analyzed around the world.

It’s not enough for Donald Trump, who’s clearly addicted to Twitter, despite the fact that his tweets keep getting him into political and legal trouble.

Just think of Trump as Kirk, and each adorable tribble is a cancerous tweet, eating away at truth and democracy. Image via Giphy.

If you remove politics—I know, this is hard—Donald Trump presents a unique case in messaging and media strategy, especially when it comes to how he uses social media.

Somehow, he steamrolled a field of Republican candidates so big they all couldn’t fit on one stage. Yet using the same media tactics keep backfiring as president.

Let’s drill down on why.

1) Trump truly believes the myth of Any Press is Good Press

When you’re trying to do anything on a big stage—become a famous rock star, actor, artist, writer or politician—most of the battle is simply becoming known. Because if nobody knows you exist, they can’t see your movies, buy your singles on iTunes or vote for you in a primary.

So at first, it’s all about name ID.

Trump clearly buys into this. His name is his brand, and he’ll do anything to boost that brand.

There are two main schools of thought to generating free press and dominating the news cycle. The first school says dominate the news cycle by, I don’t know, making actual news. Saying something bold and fresh. Announcing a new policy (“We will put a man on the moon!), revealing a secret, saying who your veep will be. That sort of thing.

The other school of thought in PR—an evil school I don’t subscribe to—says, “I don’t care if the story is good or bad, as long as they spell my name right.”

Trump doesn’t just buy into the theory that all press is good press. He *needs* press as a form of attention and validation.

That didn’t hurt him as a businessman, or even as one of 17-bazillion candidates for the Republican nomination. Because it’s true that you can boost your name ID and make money by doing outrageous things. His business goals and personal needs were in alignment.

So the first thing you have to think about is why Trump uses Twitter, and it’s not four-dimensional chess. It’s to gin up press and attention, like he’s always done.

2) The pro’s and cons of constant controversy

Gaffes that would slay ordinary politicians failed to kill Trump’s candidacy.

People expect craziness from him. It’s not a shock. He’s vaccinated himself by doing it so often for so long.

Trump’s go-to move is something that’s guaranteed to generate tons of free ink: insult other famous people. Give them frat-boy nicknames, make fun of their size, call women ugly, attack minorities—whatever it takes.

Yet the downside is huge. Even as an unknown, hustling to make it big, generating controversy boosts your name ID at the expense of your reputation.

Becoming president changed everything for Trump.

Every single spelling mistake, provable lie and temper tantrum he tweets gets dissected on the global stage.

Trump didn’t adjust. He still acts like he’s hustling to get known and make it big, posting risky tweets because that’s what worked to boost his name ID and get earned media.

Except you don’t need to boost your name ID when you’re the president of the United States of America.

And when you pick fights as president, you’re always punching down, attacking people with less power than you. There’s no way it’s seen as anything but bullying.

Trump doesn’t care because he’s still generating attention. Sure, the press will cover his tweets, and people will read those stories.

People will always be entertained by watching human train wrecks. It’s just lot less fun being a passenger on that train when Trump’s driving it off a cliff.

3) There is no plan, only emotion

Most public figures and leaders tweet with a purpose. They have a plan and check with others, including professionals who understand media and message, to make sure they avoid self-inflicted wounds while making progress toward tangible goals.

Political candidates and leaders usually try to gain support and build bridges. Because that’s how you get elected and get things done for the folks you represent.

Trump tweets for himself, based on his needs and emotions. The primary emotion is rage, but even his positive tweets are ones that focus on his favorite subject: Donald Trump.

Tweeting gives him instant gratification. He doesn’t have to wait until tomorrow’s newspaper or for what he said to hit CNN or FOX. The retweets, likes and comments show up in seconds.

So I don’t buy the theory that Trump is doing insanely complicated things on Twitter and somehow playing four-dimensional chess. When he gets mad, he tweets. And he continues to do so despite the obvious legal and political damage. He’s blown up deals with the Republican-controlled Congress with a single tweet, started trade wars and threatened nuclear war. I’m not sure how he could use Twitter to do more damage. He’s pretty much got it covered.

His political goals and personal needs are out of alignment.

Trump isn’t building bridges and making friends with controversial tweets, attacks on his enemies and provable lies. He’s motivating those that oppose him and giving Robert Mueller evidence of obstruction of justice.

This is a key point. Prosecutors need evidence of intent for a crime like obstruction of justice. This is ordinarily hard to get. Trump has turned his tweets into a permanent, written record of his intent, a stream-of-consciousness monologue for everyone to see. It’s a peek inside his brain, and that picture isn’t pretty.

The last argument you could make is Trump uses tweets as fan service, to feed his base. Except when pollsters and pundits talk to people who voted for him, one thing keeps coming up: they wish he’d stay off Twitter.

He won’t.

Not even if it costs him the White House.

Earth Day and the March for Science–because there is no Planet B

Tyson is right: we wouldn’t have all the things we enjoy today, from Fords to iPhones to the interwebs, without science.

That requires respecting the foundations that gave us science, math and the tech we rely upon today. And it means respecting scientists. Because they are under attack on a number of fronts, including Soviet-style misinformation and propaganda campaigns.

This is why people are marching for science today.

Scientists around the world, I salute you and the work you do.

Bonus: my favorite marching sign.