I'm writing a fiction novel. This blog will go dark for a bit until it's finished this Summer.
So next month, I'm talking to college students out in LA (as mentioned ... I'm repeating this because everything I'm posting between now and then will tie into that presentation.)
The tricky thing with the "How To Be (Internet) Famous" presentation is that a lot of people have trouble accepting the reality of distribution on the Internet.
So before we get there, we have to establish a few things first.
You see, content is bullshit.
And I don't mean in the way social media is bullshit. Social media was / is bullshit in the sense that the tools all work and do great things. We just allowed a bunch of assholes to take those tools, make up a bunch of shit about them (which still happens to this day), and then cash in on that misinformation. The platforms themselves are fine, depending on what you're going to use them for.
"Content" is bullshit in a different way. Because now we're talking about this huge cognitive leap that everyone is making to justify the creation of it.
A few of those leaps are as follows:
1. You need to be producing content to create "Brand loyalty"
This is controversial, but I don't think there's such a thing as brand loyalty (in most cases). That means the idea behind creating content to generate that is BS.
You see this in comic books all the time. You might really like Jason Aaron's work on Thor, because it's fucking excellent, but he's not going to write Thor forever. And when he goes on to write another book, sales for Thor will drop dramatically. That's because the readers are not loyal to the Thor comic. Almost every comic book character over the past 75+ years has experienced this if they had a monthly title. A great writer comes on, they buy the book. The writer (or artist) leaves, the book declines. Dan Slott on She Hulk is a great example too. Dan Slott's She Hulk was great, but then he left and it fell off a cliff.
It used to be, before we had the Internet, you could say you're a Marvel girl or a DC girl, but now with all this information out there, that has gone (almost) completely out the window. Now you buy good comics, regardless of who puts them out. I'm convinced Image Comics does as well as it does entirely because of the Internet. Because they don't have the reach or media impressions Marvel and DC does, but their sales are excellent because people know a lot of their books are excellent. You see, the secret here is ... Image doesn't have any more brand loyalty than Marvel or DC. The customers are just smarter and better informed about their buying options.
("Revival", by the way, is a GREAT Image comic book. Go read it. Go go go.)
So this idea that you're going to put out "great content" in order to create "brand loyalty" is a flat out lie. You MIGHT get people's attention for a while, but it won't last. And even then, good luck getting people's attention. (See below.)
Now do the writer's have brand loyalty? Maybe! But you see, because we're now talking about another human, and not an intangible "thing" like a brand, things are different. There's scarcity (there's only one Jason Aaron), you can't discount him in some way (I can buy a better, less expensive Jason Aaron Thor story over at this other place ...), and we're biologically hardwired to respond to other people. They make us feel things.
Yes, advertisers and marketers will claim they can make you feel things to, but when you're eating at McDonald's, and you're "loving it", you're not "loving it" the way you'd love another person.
(That last point could probably be argued by people who really fucking love cheeseburgers ...)
2. Nobody has time for your shit
Ok. Look, you may produced THE GREATEST THING OF OUR TIME. I don't fucking know, because I don't have enough time in the day to experience the GREATEST THING OF OUR TIME.
And that's bad news for everyone if you're looking to "make it" using the Internet. It's also incredibly bad news for brands and others who are churning out content like crazy.
Here's something that's kind of funny to me: We've always been busy. Always. People get up, they work, they do other shit, eat, and then go to bed. Somewhere in there, they check their phone, text their friends, maybe go on Facebook for a bit.
The amount of time ANYONE has. ANYONE, not just the little guy but the big guy too, to grab someone's attention is VERY SMALL.
And that's how it was before everyone (seemingly anyway) had a smart phone. So now it's just way worse.
Yet everyone who extolls the virtues of content is constantly telling you things like "if you build it, they will come" and "make great content people love and that is going to be the thing that wins them over", all with the assumption that people have the time for your content in the first place.
They totally don't.
That's not to say don't do anything (something I'll get to in a few days), but this idea of creating content for an audience of people just starving for it is insane to me.
You're better off limiting your production to just what you need to make Google happy (despite the hype of social media, SEO still matters) and maybe not much more.
Also something I'll get back to. The point here is something I've said before many times: Content for content's sake is stupid.
3. You Have Something Interesting To Say
Ok. I'm going to sound like an asshole here. I apologize in advance. But there's this weird cognitive leap where people think they have something interesting to say, and so that leads to a ton of content being produced by them.
To be absolutely clear: If you write, then you write. That's your thing. It's cool. Hey I do it. This blog has no real reason to exist anymore, but I keep it around. So I'm not talking about doing creative things because it makes you happy. You should do whatever makes you happy (as long as it doesn't harm someone else.)
Cool? Everyone good on that?
What you shouldn't do is assume you have something interesting to say.
One of the things I've noticed over the past twenty years or so as an avid Internet user (note: Capital I, I'm referring to Internet culture. Lowercase i means internet as in the technical infrastructure that connects us) is that everyone has started to talk in the same voice.
It's this weird, "Ha ha! We're friends. Everything is cool. I like the things you like. Unless suddenly you don't like that thing. Now I hate it too. Let's make fun of it together! YOLO! But I'm saying YOLO ironically, just like you!"
You can go scrolling through the archives of any major web-media (in other words, a media outlet that doesn't have a traditional media component) that has been around for a while. And it's not just the web-media, you see it played out in most communication channels people like to use as well.
So what happens is people set out to create X, whatever X is, and when they're producing content around it, they're using that same weird faux friendly Internet voice.
Which completely makes them uninteresting. (Most of the time. Any time I say something that seems like a hard, declarative statement, you can mentally add "Most of the time" after it.)
This means a lot of content just sounds dull and exactly the same. Nothing stands out. You hear people complain and go, "Man there's so much noise!" That's similar to "Not enough time", except not enough time is legit as an excuse. "So much noise!" is not.
Don't assume you have anything interesting to say. I sure as fuck don't. And that should be taken as a challenge to you, not the final word on the matter. I'm pushing you and saying, "Not interesting". Your response should be "I'm going to show that guy what a dick he is!"
Because if you can do that, and make something truly unique and interesting, that doesn't require a lot of time to consume, and has no expectation of "building a brand" ... then you might have a shot at something more.
Maybe. But you need to know this stuff. Because if your thing, whatever X is, is not what I just said, then the lack of distribution or the inability to get honest to god distribution on the Internet isn't going to matter.
So think about that.
Next month I'm going out to Los Angeles to do the "How To Be (Internet) Famous" presentation. This is the third year in a row I've gone out there to present. Maybe it's the fourth. I don't know, I've lost track.
But every time I get on the plane to go to LA, I'm reminded that the only thing I really want to do is make movies. The other shit is nice, but it's not rewarding. And if you tell people the truth about marketing and advertising, there's billions of reasons to not have them want to listen to you. So ... it gets frustrating, is what I'm saying.
(See: Alphabet, formerly Google, is about to become the most valuable company in the world. Their entire business model is built around you thinking online advertising is effective. It ain't, but everyone thinks it is, so ... What can I do, right?)
I tell you this because if someone is not your friend or a part of your family, you probably only have one way to describe them. For example, if I say "Kevin Smith" you say "Director" or "Clerks". If I say Nicki Minaj, you're going to say "Rapper" or "Artist". (Personally, I'm going to think "Hot" because she once dressed up like Wonder Woman, and there is no faster way to my heart than that.)
Don't take my word for it. Think about people you "know of" but you're not close to beyond three hops.
(Imagine yourself in a circle, your family is in the next circle, or one hop, and your friends are in the next circle past that, or two hops. Friends of Friends or "Acquaintances" go in that last circle, or three hops.)
EVERYONE ELSE doesn't matter ... usually. So when I say beyond three hops, they go into that EVERYONE ELSE bucket.
You know it's true. The people beyond those three rings you (probably) have a short, simple way to remember and identify them.
There's a lot of reasons for that. And it's the source of a lot of conjecture, so it's sort of irrelevant for our purposes beyond identifying that this is the way things are, and they won't change.
(Because the honest truth behind marketing / advertising / PR is that a lot of this shit is the same as it was two-thousand-years-ago.)
The important thing for you to know is that you can only be one thing.
You may be more than one thing. I sure hope so, otherwise you'd be a boring fucking person, but to other people who are not your friends or family, you are most likely to be one thing to them.
So when I get onto the plane to fly to LAX, I am an author or speaker. I'm not an "author / speaker / comic book writer / aspiring screenwriter".
CAN you change? Sure. That's what I want to do. It may be what you want to do, but it takes time, and you can't confuse people by trying to be two things at once.
So you have to pick ONE and be AWESOME at that one thing for as long as that's what people know you for.
Of course, being awesome doesn't get you anywhere. But that's something we will talk about later ...
When you create a product, the way I see it, there are two paths you can walk down.
The first path is that the product you create is completely for you. I'll use Vengeance, Nevada here as an example. That comic is not optimized in any way shape or form for a potential audience. It exists simply because I wanted to do it.
As you might have guessed, there's a lot of problems with this approach. Chief among them: I have no idea who is going to read that comic.
The second path is that the product you complete isn't made for you at all. It's tweaked, tested, optimized, and measured to the point of exhaustion. Doing so provides you (one hopes) with a clear answer as to who is going to use the product and how you can reach those people.
Sure, there CAN be overlap (the thing you love is tested, tweaked, and optimized) but you'll find that only works to a point. Because then as you bring in more feedback, you start making changes that you otherwise wouldn't have made.
(Note: That DOES NOT mean you should not get feedback on the product that you love. I had three people I trust read over the script for Vengeance, Nevada before it got drawn. It just means you're taking a way more limited approach to gathering that feedback under the first approach.)
I used to think the second path was the right one.
But now ...
Now there's content everywhere. And it all sounds the same.
I've noticed this for a long time, that every blogger / journalist (for example) speaks with the same "Ha ha, we're friends aren't we?" voice, but with social media platforms, we see that played out among people too. Sharing cat photos because they want other people to look at how smart / clever / funny that person is for having shared it, and not because they actually like cats. (That's just one example.)
So now you've got a collective "voice" for the Internet (remember: there is the internet, which refers to the actual hardware and infrastructure of the thing we use, and Internet, capital I, which refers to Internet Culture.)
That's not really a good thing.
And so I kind of wonder, and this is speculation (for now), that if you want something to break out from that spooky singular voice that Internet Culture now speaks with, maybe you should make the thing you want to make. Because if you get crazy with the testing, measuring, and tweaking, soon (if you're not careful), the thing you're tweaking is just going to fall back into the abyss with everything else.
Of course, that doesn't solve the problem of distribution but ... spoiler alert: Neither does testing and tweaking the product to death either.
And without distribution, you're fucked anyway.
Might as well make the thing that you love instead.
This is one of the most basic, fundamental concepts of existence. You live. You die. You get married. You get divorced. You have a great day. You then get some news that's absolutely soul crushing.
Believe it or not, this is a good thing to know.
Because if you live your life with this perspective, you learn to appreciate what you have. It helps bring everything into focus. And perhaps most importantly, it helps you prioritize what you need to be doing.
I present to you, exhibit A: Adam Sandler's awful new movie was described as the most watched film EVER on Netflix.
Therefore, the next time someone wants to talk to you about their content strategy, or say something like, "Make good content", you may proceed to tell them to blow it out their ass.
(One catch: I saw something earlier where this guy was making predictions about social media and he used company provided information by Snapchat to backup his prediction. Don't do that. The odds are pretty good the company is lying. So with the above example, where Netflix is sketchy about what actual data it lets out into the wild, you should take their claim with a grain of salt.)
On Tuesday, May 17th, I'm giving a presentation in Las Vegas at the Content Marketing Conference. Between now and then, I need to to work some shit out.
So let's start with this: If you have no idea why you're working on something, or why you're creating a specific piece of content, then you shouldn't be doing it.
Period. End of discussion.
"Content" for content's sake is stupid. The only people who benefit from this mad rush to produce more content are the same assholes I wrote about when I wrote my last book. It's the people selling the shovels, not the people digging for gold.
There is absolutely no reason to constantly be churning shit out. Nobody has time (or the desire) to read everything that encounter or interact with on the web.
If you add to the noise, you get tuned out.
We see this phenomenon in other mediums too. It's not just the Internet. Kevin Hart films are a great example of this.
You might have seen Kevin Hart once in a movie, or seen his standup, and went, "Huh. That guy is pretty funny. I like him." But then he popped up in more movies, and you got really excited about it because you like him. And for a while things we're good ... until they weren't.
Now you see Kevin Hart in an upcoming film and you go, "Jesus. This guy again?"
Kevin Hart overstayed his welcome. Now you're sick of him.
It's the same deal with your content production. There might be this big crazy rush in the beginning. Maybe even for a year. If you're lucky. But then people get sick of you and want you to go away.
So what do you do?
You pick your spots.
Easier said then done, right?
Well here's how I'm different from every other schmuck peddling marketing advice ... I actually have a product that has nothing to do with business or marketing. Shit, it's not even a book.
It's a comic called "Vengeance, Nevada". (Note: I did not use Web Comic here because I think that term is dated.)
No. I'm not going to pitch the comic to you. Because it doesn't matter if you like it or not for what I'm trying to show you.
What I want to show you is that I've said very little about the comic so far on the different channels I use. There might be a thing here or there, but not much.
That's because I have a plan to roll the comic out. Until it's time to activate the plan, there's no reason to constantly talk about the product.
See what I'm saying? There's a purpose here. There's a plan. You follow the plan for your content. If you know who it is for, why you made it in the first place, and how you're going to get it to people, then you're doing ok. That's how it should work.
But if you're just pumping stuff out for no reason, that does you no good. It wastes time and money that could go to other things. And you burn up the VERY SMALL amount of attention your customers (or potential customers) are willing to give you.
Doing a comic is not cheap. Like you, I have limited time and resources to put into this thing. So I totally get where you're coming from and the pressure there is to do everything you can to get and hold the limited amount of attention people are willing to give you.
But I promise, constantly churning stuff out for no reason is the wrong way to do it.
If you don't know why you're creating something, don't continue doing it. If you have no plan for it, don't bother.*
*Exceptions, of course, exist. If it's a passion project or something like that. But in most cases, I stand by this rule.
I listen to Marketplace Tech every morning, which airs on the local NPR affiliate. Molly Wood sometimes does it, and if you're a nerd and you used to listen to the Buzz Out Loud, you're a fan of Molly Wood. She knows her shit.
One of the other hosts was on today, I know it's Molly because of the voice, the other ones sometimes blur together to me, and closes the show with a segment on how Yelp is more useful than the Michelin Guide.
This ... is pretty fucking scary. Not only because it's not true, but Yelp! is a bad company that you should not support. The fact that their extortion practices are considered legal does not make those practices right.
The argument put forth by the Marketplace Tech edition (which you can listen to here) is that Yelp! is more accurate because it's a "person" leaving the review, and the Michelin Guide review is short and kind of vague.
I can't speak to the Michelin Guide's reviews, but the fact that it's existed for as long as it has, is still used today, and any allegations against it have been very country specific and minimal, I'm willing to bet it's easily more reliable than Yelp!.
Because there's an assumption being made that what you're reading on Yelp is real, and it's probably not. And when it is, the content created follows the law of participation inequality. (This is talked about further in "Social Media Is Bullshit", by the way.)
1. A "Person" left that review: Despite their best efforts, there is no way to purge Yelp from fake reviews. It's a big business, it's very easy to leave a fake review, and when it's done correctly, you won't even know it's fake. More often than not when you hear about fake reviews, you hear about people doing it poorly and outsourcing the job to someone in India. Or a store owner making a fake profile and leaving reviews on Yelp.
FYI: You also do not always see good reviews of a location because Yelp intentionally hides some of them in an effort to extort the business into advertising with them in an effort to have those good reviews restored to their page.
So, assuming a "person" did leave a review, it's entirely possible (and I'd say more likely than we'd think) that you're not seeing everything that's been posted.
2. Participating Inequality: In short, 10% (or less) of people who use a platform do the majority of the posting. This is a known phenomenon that's been found on every platform going back to the '90s. Now when you factor in that people tend to share bad information more readily than good information, or even neutral information, it's more likely that what you'll see online is bad, even though that might not accurately reflect the actual customer experience for most people.
Long story short: If you had to choose between the Michelin Guide and Yelp, Yelp isn't what you should go with.
I love Netflix. For one reason, they brought back Longmire. For another, when you're a writer, you lead a mostly lonely existence. So being able to eat dinner while watching every episode ever of House (for example) is a pretty handy thing.
But thanks to Netflix (and other streaming services like WWE Network, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and the rest), we have this weird perception of "How America Watches TV Now".
Except ... That perception isn't really grounded in reality for 80% (!!!) of Americans. (The population count as of this morning at Census.gov was 321 million Americans, rounded down.)
Netflix has 65 million subscribers. Ok. They CLAIM to have 65 million subscribers. If you know anything about tech companies, which you would include Netflix among, then you know their numbers are usually bullshit in some way. They're massaged, rounded up, you get the idea.
Let's say for sake of argument though that Netflix really has 65 million subscribers. Ok. Sure
That's still only 20% of the country. Nothing to sneeze at. I'm not dismissing them at all. Like I said, I use the platform too.
But ... That's not the majority. That's not even close to half of all Americans.
So can you really say "This is how we watch TV now"?
No. You can't.
The Future? Maybe Not
For one thing, sooner or later Netflix is going to reach a saturation point among customers willing to pay for the service.
If anything, you may see people drop it more than subscribe to it. For example, if the economy continues to struggle, people are going to cut back, and you better believe something like Netflix is at the top of that list of things to cut back on because it's a luxury item.
Believe it or not, you CAN live without Netflix.
(Ok. Maybe YOU can. I can't. What would I do when I'm eating dinner?)
For another, you KNOW the day is coming where all the media types (bloggers, journalists, ect.) turn on Netflix and their programming.
Few things in life are inevitable, but should you or your company's name ever be able to generate page views, the media building you up and then turning on you is as inevitable as death.
But let's leave those points aside and talk about the future for a second.
It's entirely possible Netflix continues to grow subscribers. That would be great. You know why? It means more content. (Although the downside would be that also means more SILOED content. In other words, stuff you can only watch on Netflix as opposed to on the other services you might also be paying for. Content Silos are an issue nobody talks about because we're too busy praising and fawning over these services and our alleged future.)
It's also possible that Netflix is now as big as it's going to get. Then what? If only 20% of Americans are using it, then it is NOT at all the future of television, despite the hype and despite the press and think pieces that say it is. What are the ramifications of that? (A lot, is the short answer.)
It's also possible that the economy craters (I think it's coming, personally, which is also part of the reason I went back to grad school.) Then Netflix loses subscribers. As do the other pay services.
What's the future look like then? I bet it looks a lot different than this "Wow, look at the future of television" pieces we keep seeing.
I don't know what the future holds. None of us do.
Someone I loved and appreciated, and who I also thought would be around for another solid thirty years or so, passed away recently. What I thought the future looked like is now completely different, because I assumed she'd be around for me to talk to. But she's not.
So what I'm saying to you is pretty simple: Is Netflix the future of television? Maybe. Maybe not. But there's just as much evidence and trends to suggest that it's not than to suggest that it is. You just don't hear about the other stuff because positivity sells, even if it's not grounded in reality.
I was just talking about this with someone earlier, but for real, you should never believe Snapchat numbers.
(Pro Tip: Those "Sources" have something to gain by people beliving those numbers are legit, whether it's MTV who gave Snapchat a bunch of money, the agency who suggested MTV give Snapchat a bunch of money, or Snapchat itself for trying, desperately, to seem relevant in light of the battle for video attention going on between YouTube and Facebook.)
Not that you should trust most people covering tech anyway. Especially when they want to compare YouTube views and TV ratings as if they're metrics equal in value with each other. (Nope! Nope! Nope!)
YouTube Views: Easily gamed, and although YouTube / Google is making efforts to bring transparency to how those views are calculated, it's often a crapshoot at best.
TV (Nielsen) Ratings: Notoriously unreliable and a metric the industry HATES but is stuck with because of a lack of a better alternative. (At least, alternatives that don't invade your privacy anyway.)
And yes, while Nielsen Ratings can be gamed (I have no doubt of this), I suspect it isn't as easy to game as YouTube views, where just a few moments of googling, or the right person, can tell you exactly what you need to do to get great results on YouTube.
(P.S. Remember: Most videos on YouTube go unnoticed and 80% of viewers are based outside the United States. So ... again, American TV ratings vs. YouTube views? Yeah, no, that's beyond dumb. That's irresponsible journalism. But what are you going to do? Tech journalists have been in the bag for tech companies since the late '90s.
The only thing YOU can do is be aware of this, and realize just how sketchy (most, not all) tech journalists are.)