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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.