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

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

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

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

Good info is quickly outdated, especially if it’s about social media.

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

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

I’m not selling anything.

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

So let’s talk smack.

1) Don’t treat Twitter like Facebook

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Facebook a little, tweet a lot

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

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

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

The rules are reversed for Twitter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

Who do you want to follow?

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

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

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

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

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

4) Never troll, and never feed the trolls

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

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

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

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

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

Ignore them.

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

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

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

Mute away. It’s pure torture for trolls.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s never about you.

It’s always, always about your audience.

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

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

Here’s why this video has such viral power:

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

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

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

The story of the Takis shelter is much deeper.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump’s trouble with Twitter

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s drill down on why.

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

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

So at first, it’s all about name ID.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) The pro’s and cons of constant controversy

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

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

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

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

Becoming president changed everything for Trump.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) There is no plan, only emotion

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

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

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

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

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

His political goals and personal needs are out of alignment.

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

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

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

He won’t.

Not even if it costs him the White House.

The past, present and future of news

internet lynchings fact-based reporting

This post is like X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST, except with printing presses and the web instead of Hugh Jackman.

We’ll go back in time, return to the present and into the future. Here’s how it started: for eons, news only traveled as fast as you could run, unless you had a horse or an army of trained pigeons. (Yes, this was a thing. Rather brilliant, really.)

Back in the 1700s, newspapers from London and Paris were put on sailing ships that crossed the Atlantic, and people lined up and paid real money to read news that was months old. Didn’t matter. It was new to them. Continue reading “The past, present and future of news”

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?

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.