The Red Pen of Doom shoots up Train’s DRIVE BY

Here is an interesting song, and I mean “interesting” in a tragic, train-wreck sort of way.

Because it’s a decent melody by a good band with some of the WORST LYRICS EVER.

And the music video itself isn’t horrible at all. It’s fine. The words, though, they hurt me.

And I say this as a fan of Train, a man who has some of their songs and believes MEET VIRGINIA has creative lyrics for a pop song.

First up: the video, which I hope the evil known as VEVO lets you watch.

See? The song isn’t bad. The video is fine.

It’s the stupid lyrics.

Let the red ink flow.

DRIVE BY by Train

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause you moved to west L.A or New York or Santa Fe
Or where or ever to get away from me

(OK, so far, this is alright. Nothing great, nothing horrible. The horribleness is hiding and saving its strength for an ambush.)

Oh but that one night
Was more than just right
I didn’t leave you cause I was all through
Oh I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(I believe the singer — or whoever wrote these lyrics — is trying to say, “This isn’t infatuation, or a one-night stand, but something longer lasting and meaningful, possibly leading up to a white dress, a white picket fence and three years of white Pampers.” This phrase means, “A gang murders that utilizes one driver and one or more shooters, who send a wall of lethal lead at the homicide victim while making a rolling getaway from the crime.” So the message is kinda-sorta mixed. People hear this and don’t think of happy love. They think of Glocks and funerals.)

Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love

(Because the only thing more romantic than a drive-by shooting is the leading national brand of garbage bags.)

When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me

(The bad pop trifecta: a word from the ’60s that needs to be retired, a reference to litigation and a crude reference to sex.)

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
On the upside of a downward spiral

(If he were definitely referring to NINE INCH NAILS, he’d get bonus points, but he’s not, so he doesn’t.)

My love for you went viral

(A tiny bonus point for not completing the cliche by name-dropping Facebook or Twitter.)

And I loved you every mile you drove away
But now here you are again
So let’s skip the “how you been”And 
get down to the “more than friends” at last

(“You didn’t really like me before, and you drove far, far, away, but now that you’re back, please pay attention to me as a boyfriend instead of some man you don’t really care about.” I believe that sums it up.)

Oh but that one night
Is still the highlight
I didn’t need you until I came to
and I was overwhelmed and frankly scared as hell
Because I really fell for you

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(The songwriter got ALL the bad cliches and phrases of this song into one tidy package right there. Bam-bam-bam-bam-bam-bam! Kind of like a emptying the clip during a drive by shooting. No. Just no.)

Please believe that when I leave
There’s nothing up my sleeve but love for you
And a little time to get my head together too

(To woo somebody, it’s not overly bright to hint that you’re not quite right in the head.) 

On the other side of a street I knew
Stood a girl that looked like you
I guess thats deja vu
But I thought this can’t be true
Cause

Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by
Just a shy guy looking for a two ply
Hefty bag to hold my love
When you move me everything is groovy
They don’t like it sue me
mmm the way you do me
Oh I swear to you
I’ll be there for you
This is not a drive by

(A repeat and recap of all the bad lines from before, in case we hadn’t heard them the first, second or third time.)

Bottom line

A successful band like Train probably hires songwriters for some — or a lot — of their stuff. Which is fine. You need to focus on touring, performing and shooting music videos. None of those are bad things.

The words, though, actually matter. They matter as much as the bass line, the lighting on the set and the type of leather jacket worn by the lead singer.

Spend a little more time and money on the words, because I used to hear “Train” and think of two good songs. Now, the first two things that pop into my head will be “drive-by shootings” and “Hefty bags.” Which is too bad.

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.

Why are all writers lazy bums?

I don’t really think writers are lazy bums. I just want us all to talk about the elephant in the living room: why does writing take so long?

The average person types 50 words per minute.

And that’s slow. I type about 80 or 90. Faster, if I have coffee. Even quicker with headphones blasting, or on deadline. 

Coffee plus headphones plus a deadline? Fuggetaboutit. That keyboard is gonna sing. 

The thing is, all the speed in the world doesn’t really matter.

Here comes the math

Let’s say you write full-time, all day, every day. No day job to worry about, no cramming in writing at 4 in the morning when the kids are asleep or scribbling forty minutes a day on a yellow legal pad (are there other colors? why yes, there are, including PURPLE) as you ride the train from New Jersey to the NYC.

Say you’re not that fast. Fifty words a minute. 

Fifty words per minute =

  • 3,000 words per hour
  • 24,000 words per eight-hour day
  • 120,000 words per week

That’s a ton of words. An incredible amount.

Let’s do a little more math to see how much we should be cranking out, if we’re not surfing the net, Twittering our lives away and checking out Facebook photos all day.

Here come the word counts:

  • 200 words = letter to the editor
  • 500 words = five-minute speech
  • 600 words = news story
  • 800 words = oped
  • 1,000 words = 10-minute speech
  • Up to 3,000 words = profile or magazine piece
  • Up to 8,000 words = short story
  • 3,000 words = 30-minute keynote speech
  • 15,000 words = screenplay
  • 20,000 to 60,000 words = novella
  • 60,000 to 120,000+ words = novel

Of course, people don’t type every second of the workday.

Let’s say half your day is eaten by meetings, research and other things, and you only write four hours a day, or 20 hours a week. Even then, we’re talking about 60,000 words.

That’s most of a novel, four screenplays, 20 keynote speeches or 100 opeds.

In a single week.

Nobody writes that much. NOBODY.

Not even Stephen King, back when he was fueled by industrial amounts of caffeine, nicotine and other substances.

In fact, writers of all sorts are happy to produce between 500 and 2,000 good, usable words a day.

I know novelists who are happy to produce one good novel per year. If you divide 100,000 words by 52 weeks, you get a smidge less than 2,000 words per week and, I kid you not, less than 300 words per day.

I know reporters who crank out two stories a day, five days a week and columnists who do one or two opeds a week.

There are pro speechwriters, brilliant people I’ve known for years, who take two solid weeks to nail down a 30-minute keynote speech (3,000 words).

Before the invention of word processors, writing gods like Hemingway would pound on their Underwoods and count every word, quitting for the day when they hit 1,000–or even 500–that day.

But let’s be generous and say 2,000 words a day is a good day.

Where are the missing words? Why are all sorts of pro writers–reporters, novelists, poets, speechwriters–producing about 20 percent of what the math says?

Suspect No. 1: It’s not really eight hours or even four hours

This looks like the obvious culprit, because it’s the only person sneaking away from the crime scene with a guilty look and blood on the bottom of their shoes.

Reporters have to cover stories, get quotes from sources and meet with editors.

Novelists need to do research, talk to their agent, go on book tours and so forth.

Every writer, reporter and novelist has to do research, travel and attend meetings. Nobody is chained to the desk the entire workday, pounding on the keyboard like a typist. They need to eat of the food sometimes, and drink of the wine, and have a life.

HOWEVER:  A lack of hours isn’t what’s wrong here.

Let’s say even more of the day is toast. Research. Phone calls. E-mail. Lunch with some big important person. Twittering to your buddies.

Fine, let’s go all the way down and say six of your eight hours are toast, and there are only TWO HOURS of actual banging on the keyboard.

3,000 words per hour X 2 hours = 6,000 words a day.

And yet the most writers typically can hit, day after day, is 2,000 words.

Where are the missing words?

Also, I know writers who spend six hours a day in meetings, doing research, returning e-mail and all that — and they still bang on the keyboard at least four to eight hours a day because they’re working crazy hours. A lot of writers work weekends, too. Writing is often a daily habit.

Yet 2,000 words per day seems like a kind of universal wall for writers of all stripes. Why?

Suspect No. 2: We type slower than narcoleptic turtles

This suspect doesn’t even get handcuffed and taken down to the station for a chat.

I used 50 words a minute because it’s the average typing speed of the general population.

Serious and professional writers are typically a lot faster, unless they’re hunting and pecking on an Underwood because that’s what they’ve always done since they first got published in 1926. There aren’t that many authors in that category.

If you dictate your stuff with Naturally Speaking or whatever, it’s more like 100 words a minute.

But let’s be generous again and pretend we all type really, really slow.

25 words a minute = 1,500 words an hour.

Even if we say Suspect No. 1 (Miss Most Hours of the Day Get Wasted) and Suspect No. 2 (Mr. Types Slowly) shacked up in a cheap motel and conspired to murder the creativity of all writers, it doesn’t get us down to 2,000 words a day.

Four hours at the keyboard at 30 words per minute is still 6,000 words a day. Two hours is 3,000 words, which is closer, but not plausible. Professional writers aren’t much slower than average typists–they’re a lot faster.

We need a better theory of the crime.

Suspect No. 3: Writing requires deep, deep thinking

Ah, this one is good. It’s lurking in the shadows.

It’s evil. Hard to refute.

How can you say that writing is shallow and easy?

How can you deny the art required, the creativity?

This isn’t an assembly line. It’s not a factory where we churn out widgets. Writers create something original, whether it’s a 500-word story for the newspaper or a 100,000-word novel.

Except I know better. Because I’ve been watching.

Going off my own experience wouldn’t be proof of squat. Maybe I’m an anomaly. Maybe I type 80+ words per minute (true) and separate writing from editing (also true).

But I know writers of all sorts. Reporters, speechwriters, novelists, you name it, and just about everybody who writes for money bangs on the keyboard at least four hours a day, and they’re all faster than 50 words a minute. That’s 3,000 words per hour.

Even going with four hours a day of actual writing, we should be at 12,000 words a day. Except we’re not.

Suspect No. 4: We’re creating while destroying

This is our killer. I’ve seen him at work.

I’ve helped other writers catch the evil scumbag, convict him and send him upstate so he can’t do any more damage.

We are typing away on the keyboard, and we’re not doing it at 10 words per minute. We are writing fast. It’s just that we destroy those words just as fast.

Why do we writers destroy more than we create?

Not because the words aren’t pretty. Sentence by sentence, they’re fine.

It’s because the structure is wrong.

I’ve looked at bad drafts that hit the roundfile. The sentences were pretty. It was the structure that failed.

We spend so much time trying to fix these things because we nobody teaches us structure.

Oh, they taught me the inverted pyramid in journalism school, which is the best possible blueprint for a story if you want to give away the ending right away and put people in a coma the longer they read.

Creative writing professors teach us characterization and the three types of conflict in creative writing.

Rhetoric professors give us logical fallacies and different types of arguments in speech and debate.

Journalism profs teach us hard and soft headlines and the different types of ledes.

Yet that’s not really structure. It’s tiny bits and pieces.

Building a house one room at a time, without blueprints

They way most of us write is like trying to build a house one room at a time. Winging it, without any blueprints.

Pour the foundation for the front door and foyer.

Frame it. Wire it for electricity. Drywall it. Paint it.

Now dig the foundation for the kitchen and build that.

Where should the living room go? OK, we did that, but forgot to put in stairs to the second floor, so we’ve got to tear it all down and start over.

That’s how I used to write. It’s how most writers I know do it.

You start at the beginning and work your way through it, trying to fix any problems with structure along the way.

My old friend and mentor, Robin, was guilty of this. He’d spend a week on an oped, which is only 800 words. He was a brilliant man, one of the smartest I’ve ever known, and a good example of why mixing research, writing and editing into a single process slowed everything down to a snail’s pace. He’d create and destroy thousands and thousands of words before he had 800 on a final draft.

Doing research, writing and editing all at once is no way to run a railroad. It’s building a house without blueprints, blindly hoping the beginning will magically connect with the middle and an end you haven’t figure out yet.

I’ve had houses designed and built. If a contractor tried to build a house the way we writers work, it wouldn’t take six months to finish it. It’d take six years, or forever.

So this is our killer, our time-suck, our nemesis.

Question is, how do you DO structure — and how do we, as writers, learn to draw good blueprints, so we stop spending 80 percent of our time at the keyboard destroying what we created?

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.

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”

The random junk in our garages, it is multiplying, and IT MUST BE STOPPED

How much stuff is in your garage or basement, taking up space?

I feel your pain. Once you put something in a plastic bin and shove it in your garage, there’s a 95 percent change you’ll never open it. You could move across the country three times, loading and unloading those same plastic bins into U-Hauls, and never crack open the seal.

This is wrong. And it doesn’t have to be this way.

Though my first social media love remains Twitter, and my affair with WordPress lives on, the useful thing about Facebook is you can connect with local people who’ll pay you monies to TAKE JUNK YOU DON’T USE.

Here are three ads I put on Facebook today for my local group, East Grays Harbor Swap and Shop, or as I like to call it, EGHSS, which you pronounce kinda like “eggs” except slower and in a Danish accent.

Also: here’s a link to the craigslist ad that started me blogging in the first place: Epic Black Car deserves good owner; are you worthy?

Champion Juicer Emir's Bike Hitting Machine

 

What words get shared on social media – and what doesn’t?

media strategy saturday meme

ublicity and marketing, including social media, is like the Wild West.

Just about anybody can call themselves a Social Media Ninja (although they shouldn’t) and get away with it, especially if they used the right jargon. Crazy ideas don’t sound crazy when nobody really knows anything in this new frontier.

Social media is still related to publicity and marketing, and even in that old business, the saying was, “Half of all advertising gets wasted. But nobody knows what half.”

Although there’s certainly good practice and bad ideas, there’s always been more art than science to the field. You can’t predict what will work or say, “We’re going to make this viral” and have it happen. Doesn’t work that way.

PETA does it best: they assume most things will fail, which is true. They swing for the fences and try all sorts of wild ideas and PR stunts, because 99 of them can flop if only one of them goes viral. PETA knows you can’t plan viral.

Now, I like the art AND the science, the theory and the practice. You can’t run everything by the numbers, because good numbers are hard to find, and it’s expensive, and you surely can’t run a bunch of numbers and say, “See? This thing will blow up because, you know, science.” Doesn’t work. But you can, and should, grab data where possible and use that to point in the right direction.

So it gave me great joy to see Neil the Patel come through with another great infographic about which words get shared on social media — the Book of Face, the Twitter, Goople+ and even that thing called LinkedIn — and which words get buried. Useful stuff.

The Surprising Words That Get Content Shared on Social Media

Happy birthday to the Twitter!

A nice little video about the evolution of the Twitter, which is 6.942 bazillion times better than the Book of Face, which will one day go the way of MySpace — and not even powers of Justin the Timberlake will be able to save Zuckerberg’s baby.

I’d throw another “which” in there, but it’d just be piling on.

Also: What is the ONE THING you would delete about the Twitter, aside from nuking direct messages from orbit?

Also-also: What is the ONE THING you would add to the Twitter?

3 ways to change the digital world FOREVER

media strategy saturday meme

It is official: social media now dominates the Series of Tubes.

Every year, these smart people produce a slick video about the interwebs, and this year’s video is especially good and interesting.

Now, having filled your brain with facts and numbers and industrial euro-pop dance music, WHAT DO WE DO?

Simple. We change the world.

Change # 1: One Contact Thing to rule them all

So you’ve got contacts in your gmail at home and Outlook at work, Twitter lists of followers and all kinds of Facebook friends, Tumblr buddies and Pinterest pals and a dozen other things.

It is an unholy mess.

Blessed be the app that gives us One Contact Thing, a single shebang with the magical powers to organize all your contacts, from all those stupid platforms, in one tidy place. The power will be unthinkable.

This means ending the nonsense about Instagram not talking to Twitter because she saw him flirting with Google or whatever. And yes, we need it to be easy and quick and on our phones. Because I’m not firing up the PC every time I need to look up a phone number or Twitter handle.

Whoever does this first — Apple, Google, Microsoft, some dude in his basement coding the app in his pajamas — will rule the interwebs forever and ever.

Change # 2: Obliterate voice mail and switch to texting

Am I saying we should take voice mail behind the barn and shoot it? No. I’m saying take it behind the barn, hang it, set it on fire, THEN shoot it.

Nobody likes voice mail. Nobody.

Don’t call my cell phone and make me dial up voice mail, punch in a password I keep forgetting, then listen for two minutes. Especially when 99.99 percent of all voice mail messages are things you can sum up in a short text like, “Phone tag, you’re it” or “Pick up some milk, yo” or “I’m a reclusive billionaire with $400 million sitting around, and instead of handing it to Karl Rove, who I wouldn’t trust at this point to run a successful race for student body president at Willapa Valley Junior High, I’d like some return on my investment.”

Send a text, people. College kids these days don’t even use email anymore. They think email is so 1994.

If it’s too complicated for a text, send an email.

If you really hate me, send a voice mail. Make it long. Don’t leave your number or email — assume that I’ve memorized it. And then when I call back, make sure you don’t answer your phone so I can start the whole thing rolling with a voice mail of my own.

Therefore, we will nuke voice mail from orbit, and the world will rejoice.

Change # 3: Real photos, good bios and no anonymous trolls

Twitter, Facebook and every other social media shebang is full of photos and bios of people that may be human, and might be young or old, male or female, con artist or genius.

You can’t tell, though, because (a) their profile photo is a shot of a cat, Yoda holding a lightsaber or a pile of leaves, (b) their Twittter handle is @jkringer392 and (c) their bio is a train wreck of obscure references to Star Trek fan fiction and such. I have seen all of these things and more. Who will pay for my therapy?

Related post: 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys

There are plenty of places for anonymous folks to say whatever they like. Sites like reddit will always be around. Have at it.

HOWEVER: papers of news, TV stations and serious blogs need to stop feeding the trolls by letting TrailerParkNinja and TexasMustSecede2016! dominate the comment sections with anonymous spam and hateful, nonsense. So let’s cut back on that by requiring commenters to use real photos and bios. Want to spew? Go spew in Anonymous Land.

If you’re going to be on the Series of Tubes, and want to be taken Seriously, you need a Serious photo — of you, not your cat — and a real bio. Period.

Long ago, only famous people needed public relations folks, who made sure actors, authors and other celebrities had good mug shots and nice bios. Today, everybody is online. Your photo, bio and name are what people see first. But average people don’t have a publicist. They’re flying in the dark with a blindfold, and yeah, it shows.  

Wonder why you aren’t getting many followers on Twitter or hits to your blog? Take a look at your photo and bio.

Trying to get a job / book deal / punk rock music contract? Take a hard look at what people see, in the first five seconds, when they check you out on Twitter and the Book of Face and such.

People don’t make a decision about you after reading your short stories or listening to three mp3s of sample songs on your blog. They glance at your photo and decide, in half a second, whether to interact with you or never give you a second thought. They do this all the time, in a hurry. Ten people just followed you on Twitter, and you follow back or not, clicking away with your mousity mouse, no-no-yes-no-yes-yes-no. You don’t ponder these decisions, right? Bam. So make it easy on people by taking it seriously. I’m talking to you, Miss Duckface, who shot your profile photo in the bathroom mirror using an iPhone.

People need a place –a Profile Doctor–to get easy and quick help with this sort of thing, without putting a public relations firm on retainer.

5 ways to make blog posts GO ALL VIRAL

There is no guaranteed method, no secret way, to make a blog post that causes the Series of Tubes to explode.

Anybody who says otherwise is a lying liar full of lying liaosity.

Because this is an art, not a science.

HOWEVER: There are things that are smart, and give you a chance.

yoda after the death star blows up
If your magical blog post causes the Series of Tubes to blow up like a Death Star orbiting the second moon of Yavin, then Yoda will celebrate by dropping it like it’s hot.

5) Swing for the fences

If all your blog posts are kinda the same — the same topic, the same length, the same tone — it’s a good bet none of them will ever magically shock the world.

Learn from PETA, which gets gobs and gobs of free ink and airtime by trying bold, crazy PR stunts.

Most of them fail. Sometimes, they get a little bad press for a stunt gone wrong.

But they keep swinging for the fences, because there is no real penalty for swinging and missing.

People only really pay attention when you hit that towering home run.

So PETA does the opposite of most non-profits, companies, politicians, authors, actors and would-be Famous Peoples: they don’t (a) craft a strategy full of bunts and singles, (b) assume all those bunts and singles will work 100 percent of the time, then (c) freak out when things don’t work out exactly according to the plan and (d) yell at their publicist for all those failures.

PETA knows most swings of the bat will miss. They’re smart about it. They don’t whine or cry in their IPA’s after hours, asking God why nobody prints their press releases. They swing hard. They know missing is part of the game. And they keep on swinging, knowing that all it takes is one solid smack of the bat to get their message through in newspapers, radio and TV around the world.

I did a bunch of posts examining how PETA and other folks do publicity right. Read them. It’ll make you rethink playing small ball.

4) Start with a killer photo

Words are great. I adore words, and I bet you do, too.

Treating photos as an afterthought, though, is crazy.

Because images are more powerful than words. They tap directly into a primal part of our brain and work all kinds of magic, bam, faster than you know it, all while your brain is still processing the first few words of the headline and such.

Every post should have one killer image.

Every post.

Snag a shot from flickr or morguefile. Snap away with your iPhone or Droid — or, if you’re lucky enough to have one, a Nikon of Infinite Beauty.

Use one of the online meme generators (they are legion) to add words to a fresh meme.

Better yet, find a photo and start an entirely new meme.

What if I told you ... how to get to Sesame Street?
Make your own meme already. DO IT NOW.

3) Embrace viral networks

Everybody basically has a blog, a Facebook page and uses Twitter — that’s pretty standard.

Hear me now and believe me later in the week: that won’t help you go viral.

Blogs just sit there, really. Nobody except your subscribers will realize you’ve got a new post.

The Book of Face is social networking, not social media. Same with Twitter.

They aren’t designed, really, for things to go viral. Are they better than a kick in the head? Yeah.

For a blog post to really go viral, you need it to make noise on Pinterest or Reddit, Digg or Stumbleupon — those sorts of sites.

Because lumping all these sites under the term “social media” is stupid.

whuh?
What? Social networking and social media are not the same thing?

There’s social networking, where you make new friends and talk smack with those friends.

There’s social media, which sort of works as an alternative to mass media (papers of news, radio, TV) — but not really.

And then there are viral networks.

To make a blog post go viral, people who use viral networks must (a) see your post and (b) share it.

That means putting the right sharing buttons on each post.

It means joining a few of those viral networks to see how they work.

And it means using those networks to push sharing buttons on stuff your friends post, not just your own stuff.

This is where a killer photo comes in handy. Pinterest and other viral networks are incredibly visual. If your post doesn’t have an image, it’s basically impossible to post on many viral networks. Even if they let you post, I don’t suggest doing it. Because a photo is key.

2) Use the video, Luke

Moving pictures are even BETTER than regular old pictures, which are better than words.

Here. I’ll make it all simple with logic and such:

Video > Photos > Words

Find short clips on YouTube that illustrate your point.

Snag animated gifs that are related, and funny, and not gross or pervy.

Techno Viking does not listen to the prayers of men, or bloggers. He only wants to dance, and to crush his enemies, then dance a little more.
Techno Viking does not listen to the prayers of men, or bloggers. He only wants to dance, and to crush his enemies, then dance a little more.

There is no shortage of video clips and gifs. I am constantly amazed by the creativity of peoples on the Series of Tubes, and I tip my hat to them. You make me laugh, and learn things, because video is the most primal way of reaching people.

1) Wrap it all up with a head-turning headline

The Greatest Blog Post in the History of the Blogosphere won’t matter if your headline is something like “What I wrote this morning, after I had some Cocoa Puffs”

Give your post a great headline. How?

Bottom line, you want the headline to create interest by (a) raising interesting questions about (b) stuff people already care about, and I have to say  (c) if your blog is a thinly disguised diary, and eliminating the words “I” and “me” would cause the word counts of all your posts to drop by 20 percent, then yeah, that stuff isn’t really interesting or what people care about. Don’t do it.

Interesting questions include anything primal: life and death, love affairs and disasters, monsters and myths.

Stuff people already care about include books and movies, music and plays, stupid reality TV shows, politics, news, art, photography, stupid reality TV shows about celebrities and anything funny.

So what’s a good killer headline? Here are a few:

  • Top 10 things to do before Comet 1948A destroys Earth
  • Why JAWS and FATAL ATTRACTION are the same flipping story
  • If the Bachelor and Bachelorette are 0 for 40-whatever on engagements and marriages, is all hope for love lost — or is reality TV just an empty wasteland of vacuous, fame-chasing idiots?

Now, I’m kidding with that last headline. Bit too long.

On the other hand, it is unusual and would stand out. Bet you if I wrote a post with exactly that headline, it might make a splash. That last hed (journalism slang alert!) happily swings for the fences.

So don’t worry about missing, and don’t place all your bets on some golden post.

Swing hard.

Swing often.

Swing true.

Because every time you shoot for something bold and spectacular, even if you fail, you’ll get better at it. And you won’t learn how to hit home runs if all you do is aim for bunts and singles.

Top 4 features Twitter should add — or kill

So, I love the Twitter, which is fun and useful, and have fallen out of love with the Book of Face, because it’s not very useful and has become rather Annoying.

Twitter

HOWEVER: There are things in Twitter that should be fixed, and features we desperately need to have.

Here they are.

Thing Number 4: Kill direct messages 

Kill it with fire. Nuke it from orbit. Go send Keanu Reeve through the Matrix to wipe DM’s from the face of the Twitterverse.

Why?

Because nobody sends them anymore, not unless they get hacked and spit out endless “U didn’t see them tapping u? ” messages.

Thing Number 3: Give unto us some LIVE CHAT already

One of the great things about Gmail is you can see your contacts on the left side of the screen, with little green dots for folks who are online, and with a single click, bam, you can live-chat your buddies.

Twitter needs this. You’re already on the Twitter, and so is your buddy, but after the third round of back-and-forth of Tweets and replies, it’s beyond clunky and you just want to do a live chat instead of waiting for Twitter to reload and such.

Live chat isn’t some kind of advanced alien technology.  Make your people happy. After you put a dagger in the heart of spammy direct messages, give us live chat, which is spam proof.

Thing Number 2: Separate the streams

Right now, Twitter gives us a single stream of tweets, and they fly by at the speed of light.

Even if you’ve got all your people categorized into separate lists and groups, and would like to check on folks that way, Twitter won’t let you.

Basically, they’ve crossed the streams. And crossing the streams is an achy breaky bad mistakey.

Sure, you can fire up Hootesuite and other apps that will let you see different streams of Tweets, as they are meant to be seen. Yet if you need Hootesuite to check different streams, then Social Bro to manage your lists, Buffer to schedule tweets and some other app to get a handle on all your contacts, that’s a flashing neon light that says Twitter needs fixing.

Thing Number 1: Give us easy ways to manage our peoples

Learn from email, please. It’s been around for a little while now, and we all know how to use it.

Don’t let us organize people into lists like “Thriller authors” and “Serious fans of Care Bear cartoons” without giving us an easy way of sending a tweet about Lee Child‘s latest novel only to those thriller authors, and not your Care Bear maniacs.

Don’t make it insanely difficult to sort through the list of people you follow, or who follow you, without wading through screen after screen. SocialBro has some really smart features, like sorting through people who haven’t tweeted in six months. Learn from that. Sock it to us.

It shouldn’t be insanely difficult to keep track of your favorite people. Gmail has a nice touch where it’ll list your 20-some most frequently emailed folks. Those are your people, right? Make it easy for users. Show everybody who tweets them the most, or retweets what they say. Don’t make us try to remember whether you spell it @batmanFANinLondon or @BATMANfanInLONDON when you’re trying to talk to the guy about what DC will do with the Justice League movie.

Also, distribution lists are smart and useful. Let us have them.

Make it easy and we will love you even more, Twitter.

Make it hard and we’ll keep on kludging together workarounds, using four other apps, as we wonder whether you’ll keep making smart decisions or follow Facebook down the path of the Dark Side, where stock options only head south after the IPO.

HO HEY by The Lumineers

music video meme sound of music

This is a simple little song with a simple little video that still manages to ROCK THE HOUSE.

Also, I don’t really hear much of a difference between the Ho! and the Hey! parts, but hey, that’s artistic license and such.

Also-also: There’s something of a trend of Mumford and Son types, musicians wearing suspenders while playing folksy rock that involves (a) a banjo, (b) a bass and (c) harmonicas or whatever.

This is a good thing, though it will certainly snowball into some kind of trend where record executives start signing up folks bands with accordians instead of amplifiers faster than an aspiring writer can tell you about their YA series that is NOT inspired — they swear — by Harry Potter or The Hunger Games, because they have a school of witches, not wizards, and the zombies show up on page 392.

Also-cubed: As for the controversy over whether The Lumineers (original band name: The Night Lights) are singing “You’re my sweetheart” or “You’re my sweet home” — the answer is, “sweet heart.”

Here’s the video. Watch it. DO IT NOW, because YouTube / the Google needs your clicks and money or whatever before their stock starts doing the Facebook nosedive.

For word nerds around the world, the lyrics:

(Ho!) I’ve been trying to do it right
(Hey!) I’ve been living a lonely life
(Ho!) I’ve been sleeping here instead
(Hey!)I’ve been sleeping in my bed,
(Ho!) sleeping in my bed (Hey!)
(Ho!)

(Ho!) So show me family
(Hey!) Or the blood that I would bleed
(Ho!) I don’t know where I belong
(Hey!) I don’t know where I went wrong
(Ho!) But I can write a song
(Hey!)

I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweet

(Ho!)
(Hey!)
(Ho!)
(Hey!)

(Ho!) I don’t think you’re right for him
(Hey!) Leave the world it might have been
(Ho!) Took a bus to china town
(Hey!) I’ll be standing on canal
(Ho!) And bowery (hey!)
(Ho!) She’d be standing next to me (hey!)

I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart

And love, we need it now
Let’s hope for some
Cause oh, we’re bleeding out

I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart
I belong with you, you belong with me
You’re my sweetheart

(Hey!)
(Ho!)
(Hey!)

The Twitter, it is NOT for selling books

Twitter isn’t built to sell books. Or anything else.

Yet if you belong to the Twitter, you see all sorts of authors pimping their books.

Some do it subtly, or randomly. Others do it faithfully, if not relentlessly.

And even if they mount a full Social Networking Offensive — a combined-forced attack with tweets on the ground, blog battleships at sea and Facebook fighter planes swooping down from above — even if they do all that, they will fail.

Attack of the Internet Fanboys

Oh, this is sacrilege. I know it.

Internet Fanboys believe that the Twitter, the Book of Face, blogs, the entire series of tubes — hey, that’s the future. Old Media is so old. They say, “Social media once was the student, and now it is the master. If you only KNEW the power of the Dark Side…”

Except they’re wrong. No matter how much you want it to work, how hard you squeeze your eyes and reach for that Internet lightsaber, it doesn’t fly through the air and into your hand. Even when you pick it up and push the button, nothing happens.

Faith isn’t enough.

Here comes the science
But spam works, right? And it uses the series of tubes.

Sure spam works. That’s why most email being sent today is spammalicious. Scammers send billions of emails every day, despite all the spam filters and barriers, because all they need to make money is a 1 percent response rate.

One percent. That’s a terrible success rate. Horrible. That’s like asking 100 girls out and hoping one says yes. But with enough volume, you can make money.

Surely, authors will do better than spammers. They aren’t peddling cheap Viagra and penis pills. They’re (a) pitching great books and (b) targeting their audience to book lovers rather than random people, therefore (c) the response rate for authors should be way, way better than 1 percent.

These are your internet friends, fans and family, right? They know you. They talk to you every day. They’re gonna buy your book.

But they don’t.

Want to know why?

Snooki vs. Nathan Bransford
Snooki can’t string a sentence together without committing sins against the English language. Yet she “wrote” a novel.

Nathan Bransford, on the other hand, is a muffin of stud.

  • He was a literary agent and understands the business of selling books
  • The man looks like a movie star.
  • He’s got 100,000-whatever Twitter followers and a blog with a lot of hits
  • He wrote a great book — a YA novel, which a hot genre, and his book got buzz and good reviews
  • THE MAN LOOKS LIKE A MOVIE STAR

If there ever was a picture of literary studliness, it’d be Nathan.

This isn’t an agent writing a book about writing (cliché). This man is writing a novel (brave!). So if anybody was poised for success using the Series of Tubes, it’d be this man.

I don’t know Nathan, but what I’ve heard of him made me root for the man. People say nothing but nice things about him. Every indication is that he’s smart, talented, good-looking — a literary rock star.

And his book had buzz before it even came out. I expected — and hoped — that he’d have a best-seller.

Snooki, on the other hand, is firing blanks.

  • She’s more infamous than famous
  • No sane human being would call her a writer and nobody believes she wrote this novel of with her name on it
  • She’s a walking, talking train wreck — would you let her borrow your car or babysit your firstborn?

It’s safe to say Nathan’s audience — people who follow him on Twitter and read his blog — are literary types who not only love books, but actually BUY book via the series of tubes — or, if they’re feeling really frisky, walk inside giant buildings stacked with bazillions of books where they hand people pieces of paper decorated with images of dead white guys, or let them touch a rectangle of plastic, then the people who seem to live in this giant buildings hand you books of your choosing and complete the ritual by asking you to have a nice day.

You could also bet the farm that 99 percent of people who know Snooki’s name and have seen her on the Glowing Tube would never guess, not even if you put a Nine against their noggin and started counting down from five, that Snooki has ever read an entire novel, much less written one. Her most avid fans, the ones who don’t watch her for the live-action train wreck and the irony of wallowing in low-brow nonsense, are 125.6 times more likely to be in a tanning booth than a bookstore.

Before we make our predictions about how well Nathan’s book did vs. Snooki’s book-like substance, let’s do some math.

The math, it is BRUTAL
Nathan having 100,000 Twitter followers should be a huge marketing advantage.

Marketing Architects used this formula: “If half the people in the networks actually see my posting, and one percent of them respond, and 5% of the responders buy, what will the outcome be?”

(possible audience) x (% who see it) x (% who pay attention) x (% who buy it) = sales

So for this example with Nathan: (100,000 followers) x (50 % see it) x (1 % pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = 25 sales.

Here’s another bit of math from Dan Zarrella, social media scientist, who I believe is the World’s Greatest Expert on Twitter.

He takes raw data from bazillions of tweets and studies the heck out of them. The rate for retweets is actually even more pessimistic than the first bit of math I used above from Market Architects. Now, retweets cost you nothing. The actual purchase of books, movies and whatnot will be far lower than the rate of retweets.

But let’s be generous and go with the actual math of what Dan has discovered from sifting through all that Twitter data.

Viral math formula from social media scientist Dan Zarrella, who is a Muffin of Stud.

Go read up on Dan the Zarrella, especially this post: Viral Math: R-Naught and Zarrella’s Hierarchy of Contagiousness. He’s a brilliant man, dedicated to using real science and math to get things done, and he hates the whole unicorn-and-rainbow advice out there about the series of tubes.

Back to the math: it’s brutal and evil. Surely this didn’t happen to Nathan, who I do believe is a literary muffin of stud. If I were a betting man, I would say no. He should buck this bad math and sell better.

Most authors don’t even have up-to-the-minute sales figures. We can’t know exactly how many books sold. We can get a good peek at Amazon sales, though, and if the Internet Fanboy theory is right, when you pimp your book via Twitter and Facebook, people click their mouse and presto, massive online sales.

The Amazon sales rank of Nathan’s book is 267,136 — which doesn’t tell us anything yet.

Rachelle the Gardner, another literary agent with a blog and a brain, blogged about a study from a major publisher that tracked Amazon sales rankings and sales over six months.

  • Books ranked 1 to 750 = 75 to 275 sales per week
  • Books ranked 750 to 3,000 = 40 to 75 sales per week
  • Books ranked 10,000 or above = 0 to 5 books sold per week

So that rough math isn’t crazy, at least in terms of sales on the Series of Tubes. I bet Nathan sold more than that. Maybe his physical book sales were a lot higher. HOWEVER: the Internet Fanboy theory that tweets lead to online sales of books gets shredded here.

What’s the Amazon sales rank of Snooki’s novel? 13,812.

How could a literary loser like Snooki do better — with a terrible book — than a literary rock star with a great book and a huge online following of book-loving writer types?

Why this happened

Part of the reason is simply this: if you’re friends with 500 writers and authors, you can’t buy all their books. Because you couldn’t afford to pay rent.

Same thing with politics. People who work in politics naturally know hundreds of elected officials and candidates, but donate to very, very few. Why? Are they heartless? No. They can’t afford to do otherwise. If you work in politics and gave $200 to all 200 candidates you know, that’s $40,000 out the door. You’d be living in a cardboard box.

Same thing with books. Most of the 13,000-whatever folks I’m connected to on Twitter and the blog are writers and authors. Love these people. Some authors send me free ARCs or e-books, which is great, and I do buy books from authors I know sometimes. But you can’t buy them all. Let’s say only half of those folks have books out this year. $10 times 6,500 is $65,000 in books.

Therefore, I’m not shocked that book-loving followers don’t buy books from each other all day. We’d go broke.

Back to my favorite New Jersey train wreck, Snooki. She isn’t a special case or some crazy outlier.

There are scads of untalented hacks — people who couldn’t write their way out of a paper sack if you handed them a sharpened pencil, people who typically don’t even WRITE THEIR OWN BOOKS — who sell more books than great writers.

It doesn’t even matter how bad the ghostwriters do their job. These books sell like hotcakes anyway.

And no, I’m not talking about some weird subgenre of books that live an in alternative universe. These untalented non-writers sell all kinds of books: fiction, non-fiction, children’s books, whatever.

What’s the secret?
You know their name.

That’s it. Name recognition. Nothing is more powerful.

Kim Kardashian could do nothing more than wave her mascara wand over a manuscript that her agent had some ghostwriter crank out, and yet she’d sell more copies of KIM KARDASHIAN’S ILLUSTRATED GUIDE TO QUICKIE MARRIAGES AND DIVORCES than 99 percent of people who’ve dedicated their lives to writing literature so good you cry tears of unbearable joy and beautiful sadness.

Here’s a number that will blow your mind: Kim Kardashian makes $10,000 per tweet.

That’s right. Kardashian makes more for some 140-characters of product placement — something she probably has a staffer write for her in about 30 seconds — than some authors get for an advance on a book they spent years polishing and perfecting.

Kardashian got a reported $10 million for her fake wedding and could earn $5 million for her divorce. Yes, that’s a link to a story quoting an expert who has math backing him up. Click it and cry.

This doesn’t happen because Kim Kardashian is the prettiest woman on the planet or because oozes from her every pore. There are thousands of actresses on Broadway who can sing, act and dance circles around any of the Kardashians, but those Broadway actresses don’t have their own reality TV show.

Kardashian and Snooki make money, and sell books, because they are famous. Because you KNOW THEIR NAME.

I’ve written about name recognition for The New York Times’ about.com, as their expert on public relations, publicity and whatever. They sent me checks that said The New York Times on it, and I cashed those checks. As a journalism major, that was fun. The next three links are from stuff I wrote for that blog. There are reasons why corporations spend billions on ads that repeat the name of their company billions of times. Also, there is real science on how name recognition works — read it here at the brilliantly titled post, How Name Recognition Works — and finally, there are ways — evil, secret ways — to boost your name recognition.

(Yes, I know the last post says “Four Ways to Boost Your Name Recognition” when the url-whatever says Five Ways — this is a mistake. The internets, they are fallible, and I told folks to fix that long ago.)

Back to talentless celebrities who write books which make more money than people with writing talent on loan from God.

Glenn Beck wrote a terrible thriller, something that people said sounded like a bad parody of a bad parody, and yet it became a best-seller. Is he a talented writer? No. Did he even hire a talented ghostwriter? Nah. There’s no point in bothering with that when your name alone sells things.

Sarah Palin has “written” best-selling books that are — and this is a strange coincidence — all about Sarah Palin.

The fact these celebrities had best-sellers has nothing to do with talent and everything to do with name recognition.

That begs the question, how did they get such amazing name recognition?

Here’s the answer that will blow the minds of Internet Fanboys and make them wish they had the strength to run from the keyboard and wrap their Cheetos-covered fingers around my neck and squeeze really, really hard: all that name recognition came from dead, tired, obsolete OLD MEDIA.

It came from the millions of people who see Snooki and Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton on the Glowing Tube.

It came from the covers of People and US and The National Enquirer, who seem to be spending a lot of ink on real housewives who are on reality shows despite the fact that many of these women are not housewives, or married, or interesting at all except in a train wreck kind of way. But they’re on TV.

It came from newspaper interviews and entertainment sites like TMZ and from tired, obsolete Old Media standbys like Entertainment Tonight and hip new cable shebangs like The Colbert Report.

And it came from the millions of people who listened to Glenn Beck on the radio.

All these people with huge name recognition are doing something far, far different than the hordes of authors and writers placing their faith in the power of social networking and the Series of Tubes.

They’re using Old Media. There’s a reason it’s called “mass media.” It reaches the masses.

Bottom line: You could spend three years building a popular writing blog and getting to 10,000 Twitter followers, or 100,000 followers, and it wouldn’t be as useful as 10 minutes on a cable reality show with a weekly viewership of 3.5 million.

Think about that. Ten minutes beats three years.

Social networking — it’s not social media — is for meeting people. A few hundred people, or a few thousand, but not millions.

Social networking is meant for dialogues, not monologues where you spew links asking people to buy something, even something as nice as a book.

If you want to reach a mass audience, you must use the mass media. Must. Not “should.” Must. IT IS REQUIRED.

Now, it is true that big corporations are spending a lot of money on internet advertising. Banner ads do reach millions of people. That’s advertising, not social networking. And yes, it boosts name recognition. It just costs a lot of money. Earned media — coverage by the press — is free and has more credibility than ads.

Even the worst movies are a publicity godsend
It’s not an accident that a ton of big-shot authors got a rocket boost to their careers when one of their books became a movie.

Stephen King started out with CARRIE, which was a bestselling novel and then a movie — boom, off he went.

Scott Turow had an injection of Harrison Ford with PRESUMED INNOCENT.

Joseph Finder, Carl Hiaasen (funny man – but he needs more vowels, doesn’t he?), Elmore Leonard, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, J.K. Rowling — a ton of authors that are household names got that way not just from having bestselling books, but from having movies made from those books.

The power of name recognition is also why Hollywood has lost its mind and is busy making movies out of board games (Battleship – seriously) and Every Bad ’80s Cartoon Known to Man (G.I. JOE, TRANSFORMERS, HE-MAN, SMURFS and so forth).

Why are those good fodder for movies? We already know the name.

Here’s the rub: the movie doesn’t have to good, or a hit, for the author to get a massive shot of sales. That’s because studios spend millions promoting each movie.

You see endless trailers on TV, ads in the paper, posters. You hear radio ads and read reviews of the movie in the newspaper. The entertainment shows and blogs plug the movie, or pan it. The movie stars go on the talk-show circuit. Publishers put out new editions of the book that say, “Now a major motion picture starring this handsome man and that sexy woman on the cover, the two of them kissing while they hold a gun or whatever.”

Even if the movie bombs, the author just got millions of dollars in publicity, seen and heard by hundreds of millions of people around the world.

Am I saying you need a movie to sell a book? No, that’s not the point. I’m saying even the worst movie, and the worst book, will sell a lot simply because of the publicity budget Hollywood spends.

Let’s take a horrible example: BATTLESHIP was a bad, big-budget movie based on a board game. It only got made because toy companies like Hasbro realized they’ve built up so much name ID with G.I. Joe and Monopoly and every other toy, they can make bad movies with those titles and people will see them. And as a bonus, they can sell more toys, including special movie editions of Battleship and G.I. Joe dolls (sorry, “action figures”) and even rush books of the novelization of the movie.

Those bad books about bad movies based on toys? They’ll sell. Quality doesn’t matter when name ID is high.

Here’s the math: let’s saying only 200 million people get exposed to the trailers, reviews and hype for a movie. That’s a huge understatement, since movies make most of their money overseas now, and publicity campaigns for movies are global today, aimed at billions. Either way, I’m going with 200 million out of a sense of fairness, justice and equality or whatever.

(200,000,000 people) x (50 % see it) x (1 % pay attention) x (5 % buy it) = 50,000 sales.

That’s a bestseller right there.

The point is, quality doesn’t necessarily matter when exposure is that high.

The new math: to sell thousands, you need to reach millions

If you’re going from the other direction — high quality, no advertising and publicity budget — you can’t get to the audience needed via social media.

Without a big advertising budget, you’ve got to use the mass media to reach the masses. That means earned media, and reaching audiences in different ways.

Some people rely entirely on the Glowing Tube for entertainment and news. Other people listen to NPR as they drive to work. Others read the paper.

If you only focus on the series of tubes — and you don’t have a presence on radio, TV and print — then you don’t exist to those people. They’ll never see or hear your name.

But don’t tell the Internet Fanboys trying like mad to add more Twitter followers and Facebook friends and blog hits, like this is some kind of Tetris game where the winner is whoever racks up the highest score. “You just don’t understand the power of new technology — Old Media is so 1982.”

Think about big-shot authors again. What do they have in common? They go on book tours. They give interviews to newspapers and magazines and TV shows. They get movies made from their books.

They don’t just use mass media. They use the hell out of it.

Do most bigshot authors go all-out for social networking? No. Some ignore it entirely. Others have people handle that. Because it’s not critical. It’s a bonus rather than a pathway to success. They know something most people don’t: to sell 50,000 books, it’s not enough to tweet to 10,000 followers, or even 100,000.

You need to reach for a mass audience. Millions — or hundreds of millions. The only way to do that is through mass media.

The thing people can’t wrap their head around is that by using the Series of Tubes, anybody can reach any mass media market anywhere in the world, for free. But you need to know how to do it, and you need something worth that free ink and airtime.

The fact that your punk rock album / novel about elves with lightsabers / book of poetry Gertrude Stein would write if she were alive today is “super, super great” doesn’t get any ink and airtime. You can’t pitch quality — you need something worthy of free ink and airtime. And that’s a different topic entirely.

Writers: social media is a tool — not a magic bullet

Every novelist, journalist and aspiring writer I know is all over social media. They’ve got a blog and a Twitter account, or a Tumblr and a Facebook page.

Or they have all four, plus three things that are so bleeding edge, I haven’t heard of them yet.

HOWEVER: you could spend all day banging out blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates. It could suck up all your free time. And you might not get that much out of it.

I see people doing it wrong all the time, and it kills me.

So let’s get some things straight:

  • It’s not about how many friends you have on Facebook.
  • It’s not about how many hits you get on your blog.
  • It’s not about how many people follow you on Twitter.

If you want to make more money writing for a living — or quit your day job to write full-time — then you need to look inside the media toolbox and see each type of social media for what it is: a tool.

Not a magic bullet. Not a sure-fire path to fame and fortune.

You also need to realize that social media can’t be your entire media plan. And no, you are not the exception, Internet Boy.

Here’s a quick-and-dirty look at each tool:

Twitter

This whole Twitter thing is for meeting people.

The social barrier is incredibly low, because tweets are by definition super-short.

Nobody is going to send you a rambling five-page email about their feelings. There’s a lot of freedom in 140 characters.

Want to BS with other writers? Look up the right hashtag for the kind of writing you do. I bet #poems will get you in touch with poets around the world.

Movies, romance, thrillers, journalism, whatever you’re into, you can find people with the same interests on Twitter, and it’s non-threatening.

It’s like a big bar that’s always open where the drinks are always free and the people are friendly, because they’re drunk. I said THE DRINKS ARE FREE.

Facebook

The Book of Face is nothing like Twitter, nothing at all. It’s a closed system.

If Twitter is a big bar where anybody can talk to anybody, then Facebook is a giant hotel with 500 million rooms where you’ve got to know the right hotel room number, knock on the door and have the person behind the peephole look at you and say OK before they open the door and let you in the private party.

Facebook is for friends and family.

It’s for people you’ve had dinner with, or would have dinner with, and want to share baby photos and wedding photos and private things you don’t want to share with the world.

Maybe you think a Facebook fan page is the best thing ever, and you swear by it, and it’s the reason why you went from reporter at The Willapa Valley Shopper to editor of Vanity Fair.

I don’t recommend it. Facebook’s niche is friends and family. There are better tools.

Also: don’t play Farmville, or Bejeweled, or whatever on Facebook, for doing so a Sin, and the Flying Spaghetti Monster DOES NOT FORGET.

He doesn’t forgive, either. Not his thing.

Blogs

Blogs are a bit like Twitter, in that everybody can see them. It’s not a private party like Facebook.

With a blog, you can write a helluva lot longer than 140 characters and put in silly photos of zombies and movie clips about hair bands from the 1980s. IT IS GLORIOUS.

Blogs are where the people you meet on Twitter can come to hang out. You can have literary flame wars in the comment sections about whether the Spork should be sent along with Snooki and the Situation on a one-way mission to Mars.

Different tools for different jobs

Think about those three tools — Twitter, Facebook and blogs — compared to a face-to-face meeting, a phone call and an e-mail.

  • Asking for a face-to-face meeting with an important and powerful stranger is the highest possible hurdle, right? A six-foot brick wall to climb over.
  • A cold call is chain-link fence. A little easier.
  • E-mailing that same VIP is three-foot wall.
  • Posting a comment on their blog is a little hop over decorative plants.
  • Tweeting is like hopping over a crack in the sidewalk. It’s nothing. Go give Yoko Ono a tweet. DO IT NOW.

It’s not about getting hits

Social media is not a games of Tetris, where you’re trying to get the high score.

Having 500,000 hits to your blog or 20,000 followers on Twitter doesn’t do anything, by itself.

Social media is about meeting people and learning things. It’s about a dialogue, not a monologue.

Fame and fortune still comes from old-fashioned mass media.

Do people like Charlie Sheen start Twitter accounts and instantly get 6.8 bazillion followers? Yes.

And there is a reason for that. That reason is simple: he was already a famous movie and TV star.

Also, he is an infamously insane train wreck, which is hard not to watch.

Want to reach a mass audience? Use the mass media

If you want national success, you need to reach a national audience.

To sell a million movie tickets, or novels, you’ve got to reach tens of millions of people with the mass media — and if you’re lucky, advertising. National success means trying to reach 330 million people. International success means reaching out to all 7 billion on this rock.

You can’t do that with Facebook and Twitter and a blog. Not everybody uses it. The only real way to reach a mass audiences is by using the mass media. TV. Newspapers. Radio.

A big chunk of the population only gets their news and entertainment from the idiot box. A different chunk only listens to the radio. A smaller bit rely on newspapers and magazines.

If you’re not on all of those channels, you don’t exist to those different audiences.

Social media isn’t a magic bullet

Old-fashioned mass media still has the biggest bullets and the biggest guns.

Is this heresy to the fanatics of the web? Yes. Too bad, so sad, tell your dad. Journalists and public relations pros will tell you this is the truth. Suck it up, internet boy. Sometimes, you have to get up from behind the keyboard and talk to real reporters, live and in person.

Someday, you have to go on a radio show. Eventually, you need to get on TV shows — not once, repeatedly — to reach all those people who only watch TV, even if you’re just trying to reach a local or statewide audience.

Say you’re a playwright in Seattle trying to make your debut play a success. Are you gonna sell out the season by having a blog and a Facebook fan page and tweeting twice a day? No.

Don’t waste your time dreaming that lightning will strike via the internets.

Get on the local TV stations, on radio, in the newspapers, on local blogs that are already popular. Your own blog and whatnot is gravy. It’s not a serious media plan.

Take solace from the fact that with 5.84 bazillion people trying to do via the series of tubes, there’s less competition for serious, hard-working people who know how to work the mass media. By “work” I don’t mean “annoy.” You need to do it right.

It isn’t easy. It isn’t simple. But it’s a lot more effective for reaching a mass audience than hoping hits on your blog will turn into magic, like lead into gold.

There are gold mines out there. That’s where you should take your pick and your axe and your mighty pen to look for the shiny yellow stuff. Because that’s where it lives.