Tuesday, May 12, 2015

When to Promote like the Kardashians and When to Keep Your Mouth Shut

There’s a lot of reason to hate Facebook, and not wanting to hear people talk about themselves all day long is a good one. Yet, no matter how much you hear people bash selfies and posts about what someone had for lunch, anyone who wants to use social media as a promotional tool would do best to not listen to the naysayers.

Social media is most successful when you are personal. People are more likely to follow and buy from accounts with human photos, anecdotal stories are more likely to receive likes and hits than instructional opinions, and the more someone knows about you, the more likely they are to want to do you a favor. The concept of headshots has been around longer than the internet because there is a benefit from the connection that comes from showing that you're human.

Even though people claim to hate the “self-involvement” of social media sites, when we use them, viewers are often there because we want to know more about someone, and nothing's more boring than someone who refuses to talk about themselves.

What is my friend in high school up to? What is my crush doing right now? What is going on in the lives of other people right now? How do I compare to them? What interesting new stimuli from their life can break the stagnation of mine? If a viewer is there to talk about herself and only talk about herself then it doesn’t really matter what you post anyway because she's not reading it. But if people are there to read about you, they want to read about you.

Personal anecdotes do far better than opinion pieces. They also tend to hold more weight. You’re more likely to convince someone of the “sins of adverb usage,” if you talk about the moment of your epiphany—what you thought before you heard it, and what you were doing that made you understand than if you said, "Stephen King says so."

Talking about how you wrote your book will sell it more than asking people straight up to buy it.

But, like many things in life, it’s not binary. Those Facebook haters have a point. If it were as simple as just saying every inane thing that popped into your head and every stupid thing you did that day, I’d be as famous as Kim Kardashian.


No, actually, Kim is actually a good example. She seems to have banal stories and self-obsessed photos, but people are interested in her because she reveals who she truly is—flaws and all—and lets us in on her life. People like people, even if it’s just to judge them. But you’ll note that the show is, well, a reality T.V. show. They’re not talking about how they did their laundry that day (Do the Kardashians do their own laundry? Hell, most of my clothes need to be dry cleaned and I get them from Goodwill, so I doubt it), but talk about relationships, personal struggles, and generally conflicts. It’s overdramatized, the photographs photoshopped, and a lot of her attention is negative, but she’s an extreme example on how, no matter what people say, they do want to hear about your life—even if they think you’re an idiot.

As an author, you already have something valid to say—a product of hard work that’s hopefully beneficial to customers. The use in social media is to give readers more than just that, to make them feel a connection with the author too, to allow them to get to know you, remember your face, and want to support you. The only way to do that is to be honest with who you really are.

Because you have a more legitimate creation than a sex tape, you don’t need to go as far as the Kardashians. In Kim’s case, the sex tape got people’s attention, and then her personal life kept people coming back. In your case, you want your personal life to get people’s attention and the work to keep them coming back. This allows you to only show a little bit of your flaws, have only a few photographs of yourself, and gives you more privacy and less likelihood to be hated. If you want your work to stand for itself, which is understandable, than social media isn’t the best promotional method for you.

Yet, while my most successful posts are those that talk about my experiences, they can also be the ones with the biggest backlash. (Actually, if you want to really piss them off, make fun of Hemingway.) When you talk about your anxiety, rejection, or anything really honest, that’s when people will really connect and become invested with you. Or decide that you’re a butt hurt, overly sensitive jerk and lose all respect for you.

This, unfortunately, is the risk we have to take, and it happens all of the time. Yesterday I read a post by a poet about a criticism a woman gave him. He was clearly upset, and it was understandable. She was pretty rude about it, saying, “It is obviously written by a man. You might want to consider thinking of your audience—or not,” and I could empathize with his chagrin. On the other hand, I could see her point. His sexual works were vulgar and penetration based, which is less appealing to women than it is to men. He actually seemed like a decent, likable guy, but was clearly sexually obsessed, and had somewhat of an older perspective on gender roles. Even though I found her criticism completely undiplomatic, it was one of the times where I felt it really was the main problem I had with his writing too.

He asked how he should respond, to which the answer always is, “Unless you see value in having a dialogue with someone, don’t try to have a dialogue with them.” He wasn’t going to prove her wrong and getting into a fight does nothing for anyone. I felt as an older writer he should have known that.

Then, today, he posted again (he posts often throughout the day), mentioning how a reaction to an earlier status suggested he was “immature,” and how he had to delete a bunch of people from his friend’s list. This was what tipped the scales for me, causing me to judge him as insecure and inexperienced.

Over the course of time, I got to know him and recognize his name because of his willingness to post his opinions, feelings, perspectives, and events in his life, but it was also his downfall: the constant complaining and sensitivity making me lose respect for him or faith in his skills.

Recently, there was another author who was broadcasting her insecurities in a way that made her look more foolish than human. Her post sticks in my mind because it was the first time someone’s anxiety actually annoyed me. Normally, even if I feel a person is being ridiculous, I at least see where they’re coming from and empathize with the intense desire to make that pain go away. But her status talked about a previous post which announced she might delete her author’s page. The original status was too a complaint—“I’m not getting the support I need. What’s the point?”—and several people liked it. In her next post, she said, “When I said I wanted to delete my author’s page, 16 people liked it. I guess I should take a hint.”

Okay, now you’re definitely being overly sensitive.

Yes, the whole “liking” issue has always been weird. I don’t like that your grandmother died… but I do want to acknowledge your post. What do I do? Most people have realized that liking something doesn’t necessarily mean, “I like this,” but rather, “I support this. I hear you. I have nothing to say on the matter, but I feel for you.” If she really thought that 16 people wanted to be completely rude to her and say, “Yes, do it already!” then I can’t imagine her understanding of the human race.

While being vulnerable is the best way to connect with people, being butt hurt is the best way to lose them. But how can we find the line? When is a negative reaction to criticism normal and relatable and when does it look like you’re an overemotional hack? When are the problems in your life interesting and when are they petty? When are the selfies a good look into your life and when are they just narcissistic?

Generally, it depends on the viewer’s perspective with no absolute guidelines, but I have found a couple of correlations to the posts that have lost my respect versus the interesting ones:

You’ll be relatable when…

-It’s about the reader, not the poster.

Don’t post complaints with the hopes of receiving a catharsis or compliments. Do it to show other people solidary, to make a point, or because it’s a funny story. When posting a status, consider what the readers get out of it, or whether or not you’re trying to make yourself feel better. (Turning to people when feeling rejected is a great method of overcoming pain, but do it privately.)

-You don’t look constantly miserable.

Post a variety of messages with different moods. A post about a rejection letter among a joke about wanting to kill your characters, how your cat rewrote an entire page by sitting on your keyboard, or a question you had about writing philosophy will, at worst, be accepted as a bad day, at best, just a part of the trade. Constantly showing insecurity makes other people feel uncomfortable. Make sure that your self-deprecating moments, your balking at criticism, and your anxieties are balanced out by positive and confident anecdotes as well.

-You always assume the best of people.

Even when someone is arguing with you, they probably don’t want to offend you. The problem with social media is everything comes in text form and most people sound pissed, but there are not many who actually want to hurt your feelings. Those who do are usually obvious about it.

On the majority of occasions, people aren’t trying to be mean—sometimes they think it’s the only way to say something that needs to be said, often they’re not even aware of how they sound. So if you’re not sure if someone is criticizing you or just cracking a joke, then give them the benefit of the doubt. If people are liking your post, it’s better (and more accurate) to believe they are trying to show support rather than offend you. If you feel a post is hostile, make sure that it actual is before going off on them.

-You don’t think two wrongs don’t make a right.

Just because someone’s a dick to you doesn’t mean that you’ll look innocent when posting a fuck-filled status. On the internet, there will always be someone who doesn’t take your side. When bitching about someone, just because they didn’t consider your feelings doesn’t mean you can just fly off the handle, cursing without thought or punctuation.

Again, make sure to post it for a reason other than, “I’m pissed,” and use that reason to determine how to word it. When dealing with immature people, it’s hard not to look immature yourself, and so the only way to maintain your dignity is to not stoop to their level, especially when posting something that is an external rant and not a comment to the person who was being a dick in the first place.

-It has an ending.

When it’s cathartic, it will probably just stop the moment everything is out there. A successful rant, however, usually has some sort of point in it, and a clear ending. Usually, it’s the punchline—a last remark to make people laugh, even something simple and not all that funny like, “Someone slap me.”

When you post about your insecurity, the ending should make it clear what you want from you readers: a laugh, an answer to a question, or even just a change in their thoughts about a subject. If you can’t figure out how to end it with a good conclusion, it’s a sign your rant really didn’t have a purpose other than making you feel better. The subtext of the ending should be, “I’m telling you this because…” If you don’t have a reason, then maybe it shouldn’t be said to your readers.

Honesty, vulnerability, and humanity is an important part of making people interested in you, and refraining from doing so because you want to look good can make the whole point of social media useless. Be careful when you’re feeling down or angry, but also remember that most occasions, it’s flexible and subjective. It’s better to be too honest than it is to say nothing at all if you don’t want to be boring.