How to Spot (and Block) Twitter Follow Spammers

May 21, 5 days later - Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

Twitter is becoming a cesspool of uselessness, churning with marketers who think it’s free advertising, and people who post motivational quotes that couldn’t persuade someone with OCD to wash his hands. And I won’t even mention the people who promise to get you 5,000 “followers” for $29. (They’re the “floaters.”)

Now we’re being hit with wave after wave of Follower Junkies who artificially inflate their numbers without providing anything of value.

Follower Junkies will yo-yo follow people to boost their follower count into the tens of thousands, bumping up against Twitter’s policy of only allowing users to follow 1,000 people per day, but never going over the line. So they stay under Twitter’s radar and continue to spread their infestation.

Beating the Twitter Follower Limit

When someone new joins Twitter, they’re only allowed to follow 2,000 people. This is the Twitter Follower Limit. You can’t follow more than 2,000 people until a certain number of people are following you back. (You also can’t follow more than 1,000 people in a single day). Once you reach a magical unspecified ratio, you can follow more people. (Some people speculate that the ratio is roughly 10% more than your follower count. Once you get 2,000 followers, you can follow 2,200 people. 2,200 followers, you can follow 2,420 people. This is speculation, but that’s the principle behind the magical ratio.)

So a yo-yo follower will follow 2,000 people, wait for them to follow back, unfollow them, and then follow a new batch of people. The more followers they get, the more people they can yo-yo follow, and on and on and on, until they’ve got more followers than God, but their tweets are about as complex and substantial as a high school prom.

Suspicious Twitter follower count

Fewer than 800 tweets but almost 4,000 followers? I don’t think so. Also, check the followING count — if you’re not a celebrity, it shouldn’t be that unbalanced. This is someone in the midst of a yo-yo drop.

How to Spot a Twitter Follow Spammer

You can spot a yo-yo follower because they have fewer than 3,000 tweets, but 10,000 or more followers. Or they are following a mere fraction of their followers, but they’re not celebrities. Their following numbers look like the Matterhorn.

Here’s an example: Spammer #1 is following 76,800+ people, and has 88,700+ followers. Are they interesting? Most of their Twitter stream seems to be a steady drip of one-way communication, with the #leadership hashtag on Every. Single. Tweet. (No, I’m not exaggerating.)

To check the Twitter shenanigans, I used TwitterCounter.com’s graphing capability. You can examine as much as 3 months’ worth of data with a free account. This is from April 4 through June 18.

May 27, 2014 - Following 88,162 people

May 27, 2014 – Following 88,162 people

 

May 29, just 2 days later. Following 69,563 people. A 12,463 count difference.

May 29, just 2 days later. Following 69,563 people. A 12,463 count difference.

This is someone who is — technically — following Twitter’s rules. The slow climb after May 29 is still within the “you can’t follow more than 1,000 people in a single day” rule, but they dumped nearly 12,500 people on May 27 and 28 so they could slime their numbers up some more.

This wouldn’t be so bad — hell, I just dropped 4,000 followers over several days by clearing out people who hadn’t tweeted in 30 days or more — except this person is on a yo-yo upswing, which is why their follower count keeps rising.

Here’s another example: Spammer #2 is following 7,986 people and has 12,800+ followers, but has only written 3,852 tweets. They’re all one liners that first-time comedians would be embarrassed to use, with absolutely no interactions or retweets. Just constant one liners. I’ve had better conversations with my television.

May 16, 2014 - Following 6,996 people.

May 16, 2014 – Following 6,996 people.

 

May 21, 5 days later - Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

May 21, 5 days later – Following 7,965 people. Almost 1,000 people in 5 days.

Again, this stayed within Twitter’s rule of “following no more than 1,000 people per day,” but you can see the effect it had on this person’s follower numbers. As they followed more people, their follower numbers rocketed too.

What about their output? How much are they tweeting? Spammer #2 is averaging 3 or 4 tweets a day, but peaked out at a big ol’ 5 for two days in the middle of May; Spammer #1 has “written” 57,700+ tweets, averaging 47 tweets per day of #AutomatedLeadershipQuote after #AutomatedLeadershipQuote.

In the end, it doesn’t matter what they’re tweeting. I won’t even speak to whether their tweets are interesting or not (They’re not. So much Not Interesting in one place. I haven’t seen this much Not Interesting since high school algebra.) What matters is that while they’re following the letter of Twitter’s rule, they’re doing everything they can to work around it and look like they’re important and/or interesting.

Except they’re not. They’re frauds. They didn’t earn those numbers, they cheated. You can’t buy value, you can’t buy your reputation. But you can apparently click your way to a false sense of accomplishment.

The Solution? Drop the Spam Hammer

I vet every single person who follows me before I follow them back. I check out their Twitter profile, and if necessary, look at their Twitter feed. If someone has a too-high-to-be-real follower count, especially if their tweets number in the very low 4 figures (or fewer), I spam-block them. If they have a high follower count, but their tweets are inane, nothing but retweets, or a one-sided conversation with no responses to anyone, I spam-block them.

I do it without hesitation, without remorse, and without pity. And I giggle with schadenfreudic delight every time I do it. I even unblocked one guy just so I could hit the Report For Spam button again.

Twitter is not going to get any better. It’s going to become the AOL of short form communication one of these days. Already, networks like App.net are coming online, ready to fill in the gap after Rome Twitter collapses. But we can extend its lifespan and its usefulness by getting rid of these Follower Junkies who are cluttering up the network for the real users who want to actually benefit from it.

The Sure-Fire Writing Process for New Writers

Novelists may have the luxury of writing and rewriting their work, but business writers and bloggers don’t. We need to get stuff out, and get it out fairly fast. But the danger is if we put something out before it’s ready, we’ll get hammered by our audience and our bosses. So the natural reaction is to withdraw and not put anything out until it’s good and ready.

My friend, Bryan Furuness, rewrote his first novel, The Lost Episodes of Revie Bryson (affiliate link) seventeen times.

I rewrote this once.

Search engine friendly content factory notebook and macbookIf you’re a blogger or content marketer, you don’t have the luxury of time and, well, more time. You have to get your work out fast. But it can’t be so fast that you put out schlock. There’s a looming content shock, and anything that you put out that sucks will only contribute to the problem. So follow these steps, and your writing can stand above the massive glut of content that continually spews out of the laptops of the “quantity, not quality” content marketers.

Write Shitty First Drafts

Novelist Anne Lamott gives us permission to write shitty first drafts. They don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to be nearly awesome. In fact, they should be awful. Just get your ideas out of your head and down on paper.

For a blog, keep the topic limited to a single idea. One idea, one post, one day. If you try to get more than one idea, your articles will be convoluted and hard to understand.

Shoot for no more than 400 words, but 300 is better. There are all kinds of arguments for and against 500 words, 750, or even 1,000 words. I like 300 – 400 because you can get the most important points of an idea down, and then explore them more in-depth later. (Clearly, that’s not going to happen with this piece, but I do that with my client work.)

Plus, the average mobile phone can display 100 words on the screen, and the average reader will swipe two more times to read something, which equals 300 words.

Rewrite Your Second Draft

After you finish your first draft, put it away and wait for several hours. Waiting overnight is even better. Then, go back and rewrite it. I don’t mean start over from the beginning. But don’t be married to every word on the page or think that you have to leave in every sentiment you expressed.

This is where you tear out words, sentences, and even whole paragraphs. If something doesn’t drive your story forward, tear it out. Everything should be about your topic, and nothing else.

It’s major work, and there should be drastic changes between your first and second draft, but don’t start it all over. If you do, the new version is still your first draft.

Edit Your Third Draft

While you’re still developing your craft, make sure you do a third edit a few hours later. (As you get better, you can skip this step, but plan on doing it for several months, or even a couple years.)

Fix the awkward wording, remove smaller sentences and words that don’t add any value. Remove adjectives and adverbs. (Don’t describe verbs, use descriptive verbs.) If you’re sticking with the 300 word limit, this can really make a difference. Why bloat a piece with 100 junk words? If your reader only wants 300 words total, make every one of them count.

This rewrite is not as drastic as your second one, but it’s still thorough, and we should see some serious changes.

Polish It Up

Finally, the following morning (this is a 3 day process), polish the piece up for the last time. If you’re still doing major rewrites, there’s either something wrong with your work, or there’s something wrong with you, and I’m guessing your work is fine.

Your problem may be that you’re a perfectionist, and don’t want to let the piece go. Don’t mistake perfect for finished. It will never be perfect, but it will be finished. And if you’re on a fifth, sixth, and even seventh read-through, you’re just stalling. Ship the damn thing and be done with it!

This is the copy editing stage. Look for misspellings, bad grammar, and punctuation. Make sure all the T’s are dotted and all I’s are crossed (I know what I said).

The House Building Analogy

As you’re starting out, this whole process should take about 48 hours, but spread over three days. Write the first draft in the afternoon, after thinking about and ruminating on the topic all morning (thinking about it will help you crystallize your thoughts when you actually sit down to write). The next morning, first edits. That afternoon, second edits. The morning after that, final polish.

Think of it like building a house: the first pass through, you’re putting up the walls and roof. The second, you’re shifting walls around and making some small-but-significant changes to the floor plan, but the outside walls are in place. On the third pass through, you’re putting up the drywall and painting. And on the final pass, you’re installing the drapes and light bulbs.

As you get better, you’ll find you can skip that third step. You’ll be confident enough in your word choices and writing ability that you don’t need so many rewrites. Even so, I still recommend taking about 24 hours to complete a piece. Write it in the afternoon, do rewrites in the morning, and final polish in the afternoon again.

Writing is one of those skills we all learned in school, but many never developed afterward. It’s easy to write, but it’s hard to write well. If you can do these four steps, your writing will become tighter, more interesting, and more enjoyable to read. And you’ll even like doing it.

Handshake is NOT a Verb

Turning nouns into verbs for business purposes is the Death Of A Thousand Cuts to writers and people who care about language. It kills us slowly, cut by cut. Blood drop by blood drop.

I recently heard someone say on a podcast, And when they’re really ready, we’ll handshake them to the investor community.

How do you handshake someone to someone else? What does that mean? Is that even a thing?

Yes, it means to introduce someone. They’re going to introduce people to the investor community.

So why don’t you just say “we’ll introduce them to the investor community?”

Uhh, this way sounds cooler?

No. It doesn’t. It sounds awkward. It sounds like someone tried to come up with some other name to mean the same thing they’re actually trying to say, only they want to say it differently.

I understand the sentiment. You want to introduce people to each other. When they are introduced, they will shake hands. So, you “handshake them” to someone else.

But there was nothing wrong with “introduce” in the first place. You’re taking something that was just fine, in perfect working order, and you improved it.

And by “improved it,” I mean “jumped up and down on it until it was a mangled heap, barely recognizable to even its own mother.”

The problem with business jargon is that people who use it just want to sound cool. They come up with some new term to mean something else.

People talk about “onboarding” when they mean “sign up.”

They “ideate” when they mean “come up with ideas,” or even “think.”

And they say “handshake to” when they mean “introduce.”

Hopefully you’ve never done this yourself. Hopefully you’ve never used “handshake” as a verb, at least when you’re introducing two people. (I understand it’s a term used to describe the way two computers communicate — they “handshake” with each other. But that’s the computer world.)

If you have, I won’t judge. I won’t cast aspersions on your character or demean your language abilities.

But I would ask you to stop it.

On a going forward basis.

Don’t Stick Your Finger In the Rat Cage – A Convocation Speech

Lab rat

I was invited to give the convocation speech at Ivy Tech in Warsaw, Indiana, during the honors ceremony the week before graduation. I was an adjunct faculty member there in Speech Communication for two years while I lived up in Syracuse, Indiana, so I was invited back to campus to share my words of wisdom. While it’s not Neil Gaiman’s Create Good Art speech, I think I did a pretty good job.

This is the text of my speech given to the students receiving honors and recognition, and their families.

 

I’m very pleased to be here. And a little surprised too. 30 years ago, I was not the guy you would expect to be asked to speak to a group like this. According to my high school grades and SAT scores, I was not even the guy you’d expect to be sitting out there with you.

But life gives us second chances. Second chances, third chances, fourth chances. I used all of those, and learned something each time. Eventually I got smart, and tried not to learn from my mistakes so much, but to start learning from other people’s mistakes instead. I learned how other people failed, so I could avoid doing that. And I learned how they succeeded, so I could do more of that.

So I want to talk about things I’ve learned in the last 5, 10, 20 years. Some of the knocks I’ve taken and seen other people take. I want to tell you what I learned in finding my way so you can find your own.

If I were really clever, like Neil Gaiman, the British science fiction writer, I’d tell you to “make good art,” and how you’re allowed to make glorious and fantastic mistakes. He didn’t say how many though, and I’m still trying to find the limit.

If I were David Foster Wallace, the American novelist, I’d tell you the story about the three fish, how “this is water,” and how it relates to the importance of being well-adjusted.” Well, I know what water is, but I haven’t been well-adjusted in years.

There are three lessons I want to share with you tonight, in the hopes that you can learn them now, rather than learning them yourself the hard way.

 

Lesson 1: Help Others Achieve Their Goals

The first is to help others achieve their goals.

When you do a lot of networking, you meet people who need something. They don’t necessarily need something from you. They just need something.

One day, you meet a Realtor who wants to fix up a rundown house to sell. The next, you meet a retired contractor who’s looking for something to do. You introduce them, and in a few months, he becomes her go-to-guy on all her fixer-uppers.

Or, your friend from high school is now a wedding planner. Two months later, your cousin opens a specialty cake business. And her best friend is a wedding photographer. You send a couple quick emails, and they’re having lunch and have passed enough business between themselves to book their entire summer.

Or your chiropractor tells you he’s trying to grow his practice. Three days later, a friend complains about her back pains. You refer her to your chiropractor, and she’s feeling much better, and is very grateful.

I have a friend who’s a professional photographer, focusing mostly on commercial and corporate work. He’s got another photographer friend who focuses on family portrait work. So the two of them trade leads constantly. Paul tells me he gets anywhere from 2 to 6 inquiries a month directly from Kristeen.

Why should you do this? What’s in it for you? You’re helping all these people, but what should you expect return?

Nothing. You should expect nothing. And that’s as it should be.

Because a little-known secret to success is first to help other people achieve their goals, their dreams, and their wins.

You don’t have to give up on your own goals. But in the course of your day, as you’re working on your own thing, you’re going to have a chance to help other people find the things they need. Introduce them to people they should meet. Share opportunities that don’t fit your own plans, and plug your friends in.

But — and here’s the kicker — don’t ask for a return favor.

That’s right, don’t ask for anything back. Nobody owes you one, you don’t have a favor coming to you. You don’t get a finder’s fee, a commission, or a free lunch.

If they insist on returning the favor, tell them about the people you’d like to meet or the opportunities you’re looking for. But explain that you’re not doing this so they’ll pay you back. You’re doing it to be helpful, because you hope they’ll do it for someone else some day.

Don’t keep track, don’t call in favors, and never call them and say, “Remember that one time I introduced you to that guy who did that thing with the stuff at the place?”

Because keeping track is petty and mean. Keeping track is lonely. Because people know when you keep track. They remember when you call in favors, and they know you keep an exact count of who owes what. And when they’ve paid you back, they’ll stop accepting your help because they know it comes with strings.

But if you’re the kind of person who just helps, they’ll remember you forever. If you do it enough times for a enough people, good things will happen for you.

Call it Karma, blessings, God’s favor, “The Secret,” or the universe doing you a solid. Whatever you call it, if you help enough people, your generosity will be returned to you in ways much, much bigger than if you kept track.

 

Lesson 2: Create Your Own Luck

By creating opportunities for other people, and helping them reach their goals, you’re going to accomplish my second lesson: create your own luck. You are going to create your own opportunities and your own lucky breaks.

Most people don’t like to do this is because it’s hard work, and the payoff is slow. Any time you try something new, like searching for a job, you won’t see success right away.

It’s very rare to try something for the first time and win a contest, get published, get recognized, or close a sale. There are no brand new singers who go on American Idol or The Voice and win the entire thing. Very rarely do we get that lucky. If you do, you’d better hope it’s because you bought a lottery ticket.

But you can create your own luck. You can create the circumstances where you get the thing you want, and the things you’ve worked for.

Maybe it’s getting that first job interview. Or the job offer. Or landing a sale with a big client. Or even running a 5K race. Trying out for a play. Publishing a magazine article.

But it’s not just blind luck. That didn’t happen the first time you ever tried to accomplish your goal. It happened after you applied to 50, 100, or even 200 jobs. Ten years ago, I applied for over 400 jobs in a single year before I got one.

Creating your own luck is not a matter of rubbing a rabbit’s foot, or having a four-leaf clover, or not changing your socks until your hitting streak ends.

Creating your luck is a matter of doing the thing you want over and over. It means applying for as many jobs as you can find. It means meeting as many people for coffee as you have time and a bladder for. It means making as many sales calls as you can, or sending as many emails.

Because the law of averages says someone is eventually going to pay attention to you. The hiring manager will call you. Or the purchasing manager will finally buy something. Or the newspaper or magazine will publish your article.

Lorraine Ball, Kyle Lacy, and Me

Me, Lorraine Ball, and Kyle Lacy. Lorraine introduced me to Kyle, and we started writing books shortly thereafter.

Or, if you’re like my friends Kyle and Lorraine, meeting someone will set off a long chain of events that lead you somewhere else. Kyle met Lorraine when they both attended the same networking group.

Kyle ended up working for Lorraine as an intern, and she taught him about marketing and networking. He left after a year and started his own business. I met them both through the same networking group, and Kyle and I eventually wrote a couple books together. Lorraine became my mentor and taught me about business, and I learned enough to eventually own my small company.

Now Lorraine’s business is the biggest it has ever been, I’ve written four books, and Kyle is a high up muckity-muck at ExactTarget in Indianapolis.

Our accomplishments all happened because we met someone who introduced us to someone else who introduced us to a third person, who introduced us to a fourth person who did something awesome. We constantly refer people to each other — “Oh, you need to meet Kyle,” or “you should really talk to my friend Lorraine.”

Sometimes those introductions pay off, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, they pay off five years later when someone calls one of us and says “we met a few years ago, and I just had something come across my desk that you would be perfect for.”

This isn’t just luck, this is serendipity. Being in the right place at the right time to meet the right person holding the right opportunity. This happens all the time in all our lives, we just have to be willing to be open to the idea, and pursue the people and opportunities that come our way.

It’s a direct reflection of the amount of energy and effort you put into other people and into the work you want to do. And the more people you meet, and the more energy you put in, the more successful you’ll be.

There’s an old saying that if you want to split a rock, you need to hit it 1,000 times. When it breaks, it’s not the thousandth strike that did it, it’s the 999 times before it.

When I was a kid, whenever I lost something, my dad always said, “It will always be in the last place you look.” I never understood exactly what he meant, so one day, when I was trying to find my basketball, I tried to shortcut the system.

I stood in my bedroom and declared, “The last place I’m going to look is my closet!” Then I looked in the closet and. . . no basketball.

I was so annoyed. I had told God and the universe that this was the last place I was going to look, but that didn’t put the basketball there, which meant this wasn’t true. It also meant I had to keep looking, which meant it really wasn’t the last place I looked. (It was in my toy box out in the garage.)

Your goals don’t work that way. You can’t stand over the rock and declare your first strike to be the thousandth. You can’t declare your first job application to be “the one.” If things worked that way, I’d be filthy rich.

Instead, you have to stand over the rock, sweat in your eyes, shoulders aching, swinging that stupid hammer over and over again. When you want to quit, you take a little break, get a drink, switch arms, and swing some more.

Just when you think you’ve had enough, and your arms are going to fall off, that’s when that last strike comes. You hit the rock and there’s a different sound. It’s deeper, and you feel it in the ground. That’s when everything starts to change and all your work starts paying off.

Not only do you get one phone call for a job interview, you get four. Not only did you close the sale, you got a year-long contract. Not only did you land the part in the play, you got the lead. Not only did you run the 5K, you won your age group.

It happened because you kept hitting the rock. You worked hard, you practiced, kept writing, rehearsing, running, and calling. And that’s why you succeeded.

None of this is going to happen for you every time. Just like every economy has an up and down, and every civilization has a high and low, our own lives have their own ups and downs. It’s what you do during the ups that prepare you for the downs. And it’s what you do when you’re down that makes your ups higher and longer.

 

Lesson 3: Don’t Take NO For An Answer

One of the reasons you have to keep trying? One of the reasons it’s going to be hard? Because you’re going to hear NO a lot. Which brings me to my third lesson, don’t take NO for an answer.

I was a troublemaker when I was a kid. I was constantly causing trouble, getting into trouble, and making trouble, and my teachers and parents were worried that I wasn’t going to do much with my life. I had “a lot of potential,” but so did every other kid. Turns out making trouble was the best thing I could have done for my future.

There are people who study this kind of thing. One interesting thing they found about troublemakers is that we make the best entrepreneurs and artists, because we never take NO for an answer.

“NO” is not the final word. It’s not even “No, dammit, now cut it out!”

We hold out for “Fine, do whatever you want.” Because in our minds, “See, I told you so” is our final word. We never want to end something on someone else’s terms, we end them on our own. If you tell us NO, we’re going to push and push until we get to our version of Yes, with or without you.

Lab ratIt reminds me of the time my dad made me get my finger bitten by a lab rat.

My dad was a psychology professor at Ball State for 45 years (in fact, today is his last day; he finally retired). When I was four, he did a lot of work doing behavioral testing on lab rats. One day, he took me to the rat lab so I could see where he worked. He bent down, looked me straight in the eye, and told me the one thing guaranteed to get me to stick my finger in a rat’s cage.

He said, “Don’t stick your finger in the rat cage.”

We spent the next few hours at Ball Memorial Hospital where I got a shot in my butt and a bandage on my finger.

Troublemakers never do what we’re told. In fact, we do the opposite of what we’re told. That’s what makes us such good entrepreneurs. People tell us to forget about a problem, or to just live with it, but we can’t. In fact, the best way to get us to fix a problem is to tell us it can’t be solved.

But we’re going to hear a lot of NO while we do it. We’re going to spend a lot of our life hearing NO over and over.

No, you can’t go to this college. Fine, I’ll go to another one.

No, you can’t take those classes. Fine, I didn’t want to take your stupid classes anyway.

No, you can’t have a job here. Fine, I’ll start my own job. And then you’ll contract with my company to do that job better than the person you hired.

This also means that life is going to knock you down. A lot. Many of us have been knocked down a few times already. That’s life’s way of saying NO.

But to the troublemakers and the entrepreneurs, that’s not the end. It’s a dare. That’s life pointing at its chin and saying, “come on, give me your best shot.”

The troublemaker will get up again and again and again. Eventually we’ll stop getting knocked down. We’ll be the ones knocking life on its backside for a while.

Many of you have already done something that 60% of the people in this country will never do — you went to school. And many of you are planning on going on to something bigger. A new job, more opportunities, maybe even more school.

And you are already — as motivational speaker Les Brown says — blessed and highly favored. I hope you all realize that, because I think all of you can do great things. All of you, not just our graduates.

And it really all will just come down to doing the three things I’ve discussed tonight: Help others achieve their goals; Create your own luck; Don’t take NO for an answer.

It’s that simple, but it’s not that easy. It’s hard work. It means doing a little more every day. Doing a little more than the person next to you. Working a little longer. Watching less TV and reading more books. It means getting up 30 minutes earlier, or staying up 30 minutes later.

I can tell you that even though this is common sense advice, it’s not as common as you might think. Because no matter how many times “the experts” tell people this is what it takes, most people won’t do it. They don’t want to put in the extra effort. But you can, and the payoffs will be huge.

Even if you do just 30 minutes more per day than anyone else — 30 minutes more practice, 30 minutes more sales calls, 30 minutes more job searching — you’ll be 2.5 hours ahead of the game at the end of the week.

That’s 10 hours in a month. That’s 120 hours in a year. That’s three extra weeks of work in reaching for your own goals. And if you can put in that three extra weeks of reaching for your dreams, you’re going to be miles ahead of those people who show up at 8 or 9 and go home at 4 or 5.

Because when you get down to it, by helping others, creating your own luck, and never taking NO for an answer, you too will be blessed and highly favored, and you’ll be in a position to do awesome things for yourself and your family.

Thank you, congratulations, and good luck.

After the ceremony, a woman came to me and said her grandson was a fellow troublemaker, and she wished she had a copy of the speech she could show her daughter. I happened to have a hard copy of the speech, which I gave to her. She was so pleased with that. Best. Thank you. Ever.

 

Photo credit: Erik, Lorraine, Kyle Toni Deckers Lab rat, Rick, Eh? (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Does Your Content Marketing Drive Your Story Forward

In creative writing, fiction and nonfiction, writers are told that that every detail, every word, needs to drive the story forward. If it doesn’t add to the story or move it along in some way, drop it.

For example, Nell may love her grandmother’s quilt, and the author may take 100 words to tell how Grandma sewed it for her when Nell was two years old and yada yada yada. But if this information doesn’t do anything else for the story later — Nell gives it to her daughter, she uses it to put out a fire, her husband spills beer on it — then the description needs to go.

Ernest Hemingway

Sometimes it’s what you leave OUT that drives a story, as this guy knew.

Even talking about it seven chapters later, mentioning that Nell huddles under it whenever she feels sad is a good reason to keep it in. But if the reader never sees that quilt again, it’s not doing anything for the story, and it has to go.

Does Your Marketing Drive Your Story?

Your content marketing campaign — your entire marketing campaign for that matter — needs to follow the same philosophy. Your individual pieces of marketing collateral need to drive your story forward.

Are you focused on getting Facebook Likes? Given that 1) Likes don’t necessarily mean sales, and 2) Facebook is pulling the bait-and-switch on marketers anyway, focusing any kind of resources and energy on Facebook in general definitely doesn’t move your story forward. But if you’re focusing specifically more on Likes and less on having Likable content, then you’re not driving your story forward.

Are you having real conversations with customers on Twitter? That does drive your story forward, because you’re telling it 140 characters at a time. You’re also encouraging more people to interact with your story. More readers means the potential for more questions, which leads to more answers, which equals more content.

Are you writing blog posts, white papers, and other content? These are the individual chapters and scenes of your company’s story, because this is where you get to tell your story over and over. Jackie Bledsoe uses his blog to tell his story about being a husband and father. Doug Karr uses the Marketing Tech Blog to tell his story about digital marketing. I use blog posts about writing, language, and content marketing to tell our company’s story.

You need to question every aspect of your marketing campaign, and whether they’re actually driving your story forward, or weighing it down in unnecessary details and worthless adjectives and adverbs. Talk to your marketing team and to your customers. See what’s driving your story, and what’s just a waste of time and resources. Focus your attention on what’s good, delete what’s bad, and ramp up your efforts.

Ten Spoilers I Could’ve Used

Spoilers t-shirt

I’m not a person who concerns himself with spoilers. If I really want to know the end of a movie, I’ll ask. It won’t spoil the enjoyment if I know what’s coming: that Rosebud was his sled, that Verbal Kint was really Keyser Soze, or that Soylent Green is really people.

Spoilers t-shirtMy friend and fellow ink slinger, Ryan Brock, recently published a list of 10 spoilers in life he wished he’d had years ago — “ten spoilers that may have changed my life had I known them ahead of time but will not likely impact your life whatsoever.”

That got me to thinking about my own life and what spoilers I would have liked to have heard while I was growing up. So here are my own spoilers that may have changed my life if I had known them, even if they don’t mean a thing to you.

  1. Love is not enough to build a long-lasting relationship on.
  2. Do what you love, don’t chase a paycheck. No, seriously. You won’t be happy if the paycheck is your only motivator.
  3. Don’t get upset when you don’t get that job in North Carolina. Not getting it will change your entire life.
  4. Pay closer attention to fractions in elementary school. You actually will use them as an adult.
  5. There is no metaphorical sunset to walk off into. Everyone gets up the next morning.
  6. Don’t quit riding your bike. You don’t have to keep racing, just don’t quit riding.
  7. Take the blame. You’re not a Special Boy. You can accept the blame for things you did, and people will still like you. But if you try to avoid blame, you’ll look like an ass, and people won’t.
  8. You should have started watching Doctor Who years ago.
  9. Read The Catcher In the Rye while you’re still young. Otherwise you’ll read it when you’re 40 and think Holden Caulfield is just an asshole.
  10. You probably don’t need to take that ballet class in college. At age 46, I still haven’t seen any benefit from it, although I do remember First Position.

I took Ryan’s list as my own little personal challenge to see what spoilers I wish I would have known. If the list moves you to do so, create your own list of spoilers, and put them on your own blog. Leave the URL of your blog post in the comments, so we can see them. Or, just list one or two spoilers in the comments.

The Code of the Ghostwriter

Row of Ghosts

Ghostwriters have their own unwritten code of ethics and practices.

(Or at least, we wrote it down, but like most ghost articles, no one knows who did it, so we can’t find it.)

Ghostwriters need a code of ethics and practices they live by. A short list of things we’ll do and not do in service of our clients. Based on my own work as a ghostwriter, as well as talking to other ghosts, these are the four main tenets of our profession.

1. Ghosts are heard, but never seen.

GhostwriterYou may read our work, but you’ll never know it was us. The ghost writer is there to attach the words to someone else’s stories. The sports star who spins a good yarn, but can’t write a grammatical sentence to save his life. The politician who’s too busy to spend six or eight hours a day writing down her life. The CEO who spends 14 hours a day running a global company, but doesn’t have time to send emails, let alone write a 200 page book.

So the ghostwriters do it. We don’t talk about it, we don’t get credit, we don’t get mentioned at awards time. Sure, we might get a small mention in the foreword, but it’s pretty rare for people to know who the ghost is. Some won’t even admit it, like whoever wrote Snooki Polizzi’s books.

2. Ghost writers should charge a fair price.

The price you charge needs to be fair to other writers as well as your clients. If you undercut your prices, and do the work for 20% less than your competition charges, you’re not only hurting yourself by leaving money on the table, you’re hurting the entire industry.

And what if the tables are turned. Some hack charges 20% less than the going rate, and your new client now expects the same price? Not only do you have to match it, but you may even have to beat it. Imagine going from $75 for an article to $60 to $50, all because you were too timid and your self-esteem wouldn’t let you charge enough to actually make it worth your while.

3. We’ll never reveal our clients without their permission.

Clients hire us because we agree to be heard, but never seen. They are paying, not only for our writing talent, but for the expectation of silence. That means we have a standing order to never tell anyone who we work for, because it means exposing a secret the client didn’t want to share.

If you want to be able to tell people who you work for, you need permission from your client to share that information. Otherwise, just don’t tell anyone.

4. There are some professions that should never use ghostwriters.

Academics, journalists, researchers, and students.

These people should never hire ghostwriters, and ghostwriters should turn down the work, because it could damage your own reputation. Using a ghostwriter in these situations is unethical, because these are the professions who are expected to do the work themselves. Using ghostwriters constitutes plagiarism, and these are the professions where plagiarism is a huge deal.

Ghostwriting is a profession for people who don’t have big egos that need to be stroked or warmed in the spotlight of recognition. But while a good ghostwriter may be quiet and unnoticed, they have the skills and experience to get the job done when no one else can do it.

Photo credit: Matthew Hurst (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Free Download of My Chapter from Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems

About 18 months ago, I was asked by authors Markus Ståhlberg and Villa Maila to contribute a chapter to their book Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems.

The book consists of 35 separate chapters written by 35 different social media experts from around the world. Ståhlberg and Maila asked, pleaded, and cajoled all of us to turn in our chapters, which they then wrestled to the ground and turned it into a heavy book about the marketing ecosystem. It’s not just online marketing, and it’s not a lot of “you should measure Return On Engagement” or “I’m the Chief Awesome Officer!” bullshit that litters the social media marketing book world.

Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems coverThis is a smart book written by smart people, talking about marketing in general, as it develops and revolves around brands, whether it’s traditional media, online, mobile, and even retail point-of sale.

With dramatic changes in consumer behavior – from online shopping to the influence of social media – marketers are finding it harder than ever to coordinate, prioritize and integrate the latest interactive channels into their overall brand-building strategy. With the emergence of the truly interactive consumer, marketers need to scrap the traditional TV-centric strategies and build their own multichannel ecosystems centered around digital channels and supported by traditional media.

Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems examines a fundamental game changer for the entire marketing industry – the seismic shift from a single TV-centric path to an interactive multichannel ecosystem that puts digital technology at the core of marketing strategy. With separate chapters on the remaking of marketing, the rise of the digital brand, conversion optimization, m-commerce, searchability in a multichannel world and predictive marketing, this book shows how marketers and brand managers can react positively to changes in consumer behavior, building customer responses and loyalty via the full spectrum of digital media.

Co-authors include Felix Velarde, CEO of Underwire; Sundeep Kapur, Allied Solutions; Cam Brown, CEO of King Fish Media; and my good friend and Branding Yourself co-author, Kyle Lacy, ExactTarget.

The book finally came out this winter, and I did what every other contributor probably did — flipped to their own chapter. I read it, I skimmed through several other chapters, tried to find typos in Kyle’s chapter (sorry, force of habit), and tried to make sense of everything in the book.

Like I said, this is a smart book. It’s packed with information — not just long blog posts, but analysis, strategies, and ideas that mid- to upper-level marketers need to know to help their brands be successful in a fracturing marketing ecosystem. This is beyond “DO TWITTER!” cheerleading. It’s heady stuff, and it’s written by the leading experts in their field.

If you’re interested in a free chapter, Ståhlberg and Vaila have allowed me to make my chapter — “What Really Counts In Metrics” — available for free download. you can download it here.

The Right and Wrong Way to Promote Your Personal Brand

Kelly Blazek letter to Menkota

One of the rules of personal branding is to help other people. If someone asks for help, you give it. You don’t keep score, expect a return favor, or hold it over their head.

And you certainly never, EVER scream at the other person or make them feel like a schmuck for looking up to you or hoping you’ll take five minutes to help them.

But Cleveland communication pro, Kelly Blazek, broke that rule when she sent several furious emails to young professionals who asked for a connection and subscription to an email job board she offered 7,300 other Clevelanders.

Diana Mekota received one after asking to be included on Blazek’s email list, and to connect with her on LinkedIn.

Apparently you have heard that I produce a Job Bank, and decided it would be stunningly helpful for your career prospects if I shared my 960+ LinkedIn connections with you — a total stranger who has nothing to offer me. Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky.

Your invite to connect is inappropriate, beneficial only to you, and tacky. Wow, I cannot wait to let every 25-year-old jobseeker mine my top-tier marketing connections to help them land a job. Love the sense of entitlement in your generation. And therefore I enjoy denying your invite, and giving you the dreaded ‘I Don’t Know’ [NAME] because it’s the truth.

Oh, and about your request to actually receive my Job Bank along with the 7,300 other subscribers to my service? That’s denied, too. I suggest you join the other Job Bank in town. Oh wait – there isn’t one.

Kelly Blazek letter to MenkotaShe wrote at least two other hateful emails to people who she believed were not good enough for her network.

Blazek’s responses are wrong on so many levels, and she says she knows that now (after she got blasted on social media, and her emails became an international story). She wrote an apology, and I’m inclined to believe it, but I think she’s damaged her reputation pretty soundly. There’s even a move to have her stripped of her 2013 Communicator of the Year award from the Cleveland chapter of the International Award of Business Communicators.

How Good Networking Is Actually Done

When you reach a certain position, whether as a professional, speaker, author, or any other visible role in your community or industry, you have to acknowledge that you got there with the help of a lot of other people. You asked people for help, and they gave it. Or better yet, you didn’t ask, but received it anyway.

People who reach these stages are often excellent networkers. They love sharing and helping others achieve their goals. Good networkers do it without thinking, bad networkers either don’t do it at all, or do it with many strings attached.

Good networkers operate from a few foundational principles.

  • Your network should never be closed. While there are problems with having it be too big, there’s a lot more to be said against making it exclusive. You’re not a celebrity, and your friends aren’t movie stars and rock stars. There may be connections you protect from casual introductions, but that doesn’t mean you completely shut everyone out.
  • Blazek blasted Mekota as being “a total stranger who has nothing to offer me.” Good networkers believe everyone has something to offer. But to say a person has no value? That’s one of the worst things you could tell someone. Each of us has something to offer the world, and sometimes our job is to help others realize what their gift is.
  • “Nothing to offer me.” Good networkers never expect the other person to have something to offer them, because networking is not an “I’ll do for you only if you do for me” relationship. If you expect a quid pro quo exchange, people will soon grow tired of you. Keeping track of favors makes you stingy, and no one will want to help you at all.
  • And while you should never be rude, you definitely shouldn’t leave evidence of your rudeness. Not only does it make you less of a person — remember, we’re supposed to be our best selves — but your rudeness will be shared for everyone to see. In just a few short minutes, Blazek undid 10 years of hard work, all because she thought she was too good to help, and that they were beneath her.

Blazek has since closed down her Twitter account, LinkedIn account, and her WordPress blog. But in her wake, another Twitter account, @OtherNeoJobBank (“Oh wait, there is one”) has stepped up and is sharing job openings around the Cleveland area.

Mister Rogers Knows Networking

In the words of my hero, Mister Rogers, “I hope you’re proud of yourself for the times you’ve said ‘yes,’ when all it meant was extra work for you and was seemingly helpful only to someone else.”

The people who taught me about networking all modeled this idea. They said yes, even when it meant extra work for them. So I do the same for others; I do what I can to teach them to do it for the people who will come to them one day, asking them for the same help.

Networking is never about paying back. It’s about helping others achieve their goals, and teaching them how that’s done. Because one day, when they’re established and have reached the next level of their career, someone will ask for their help.

The lessons they teach and the help they give, will be a reflection on me, which is a reflection of those who taught me, and those who taught them. I hope they understand the long line of giving they come from, and continue to carry it on.

The Legend of John Henry Versus the Steam-Powered Content Driver

According to legend, John Henry was a steel drivin’ man, digging tunnels in the mountains in West Virginia. He was the best there was. He would rear back with his hammer until it touched his heels, and drive steel spikes into the rock with one mighty blow, so the holes could be filled with dynamite, and the tunnels could be dug out. No one could work as fast or as well as John Henry.

One day, the big bad bossman told John Henry that he was going to be replaced by a steam driver, a monster of a machine that could outwork any man. John Henry told the boss that no machine could beat him, and he would die with a hammer in his hand.

John Henry statue

The John Henry statue in Talcott, WV.

A race was set up between the two, man versus machine. The steam driver drilling holes into the rock, and John Henry slamming spikes home with his hammer. The two combatants went at it so hard and so long, no one knew who was going to win that day.

Once the whistle blew and the time ended, not only had John Henry won the battle, but the machine overheated and exploded from all the effort. A few seconds later, John Henry’s heart gave out, and he died the winner, still gripping his mighty hammer.

But while John Henry proved he was the better man, progress never stops. The machine was fixed, and the workers were still replaced in the end.

The Machines Are Still Coming

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the content shock and how we were going to be flooded by cheap, poorly-written content that was going to make it harder for good content marketers to get their stuff actually read.

Except now it’s worse.

While writers have only had to worry about competition from other humans, now it’s computers that are able to write. And if anyone is going to be creating the content shock, it’s going to be machines that can turn out articles in seconds and minutes, not hours.

This is what worries me. Not the poor writers who blob together a few sentences that would barely pass high school English. But the machines that can actually do an acceptable job of it.

I worry about companies like Automated Insights or Narrative Science, creators of software programs that can automate writing. Automated stories like Narrative Science’s stories for Forbes about earnings previews of publicly traded companies. Or Automated Insight’s mechanically generated stories for fantasy sports leagues. All output is based on algorithms and formulas, and is built on the principles that made Mail Merge so cool in the 1990s.

Just dump in the data, hit the button, and the algorithms will select language from a vast dictionary of phrases based on differences in scores. Once you’re done, you have a fact-based article about how one team fared against the other, how this quarter’s results are better than last quarter’s, or what your web analytics actually mean month over month.

While this automated writing can be mechanical and soulless, it still falls into that “mediocre” category that people have come to accept (they’ll accept it because we’ve been conditioned to by all the crappy writing that’s come before it from people who don’t give a shit about the quality of their work).

And the machines are improving.

The content created by computers now is much better than what was being plopped out just a few years ago. In a few more years, it could get better, which would be worse for human writers. Kris Hammond, CTO and co-founder of Narrative Science, told The Atlantic that it’s “theoretically possible for the platform to author short stories,” although The Atlantic author believes it will never match the soul and emotion of a human-generated story.

(Does it matter? By all accounts, 50 Shades of Grey was a badly-written piece of shlock, but still earned nearly $100 million in 2013. So much for the soul and emotion of human writing.)

Combining a slackening of acceptable standards with an improvement in robot writing, and this is where a majority of the content flood is going to come from in the next five years. Hammond once told Wired magazine that 90% of the content on the Internet will be generated by automated writers by 2027.

While I worry that it means fewer humans will be writing content, Hammond says that’s not the case. Instead, it will be because the machines are generating more and more articles than ever before.

And that’s where Schaefer’s content shock is going to come from.

The John Henrys of the written word are facing the new-fangled steam drivers, and it’s about to get ugly. As people, especially decision makers, lower their expectations about what’s good writing, that means they’re more willing to accept bad writing, or wooden not-quite-human writing. It means that people will blindly accept writing that wouldn’t have passed muster 50 years ago, but is considered “good enough for who it’s for.”

I hope it doesn’t mean we’re going to die with a pen in our hands.

Photo credit: Gene1138 (Flickr, Creative Commons)