Stop Selling to Me on LinkedIn

Are you married? When you first met, did you walk up to your prospective spouse and just pop the question?

Or are you in a long-term relationship? How did you start it? Did you say, “How would you like to form a long-term relationship? My strengths are that I have good manners, love my mother, and am kind to dogs?” And then did you follow that up with a list of past significant others who can vouch for your good character?

Of course not! That’s clearly no way to enter into any kind of relationship.

But when people connect with me on LinkedIn, it turns me off when the very first thing they do is ask if I need their web services, followed by a 500 word explanation of everything they can do, the companies and projects they’ve worked on, and a request to hop on the phone for a 15 – 30 minute conversation about what they just sent me.

(Not to mention that every message looks nearly identical. They’re either all copy-pasting each other’s sales pitch, or it’s just one company creating thousands of profiles with the same message.)

Oh, I know, I know. Some of you are saying: “Hey, it works. We get clients this way.”

Can of Spam. This is what you're sending people on LinkedIn if you pitch them without starting a relationship.I’m sure you do. And there are stories where people agreed to get married after just one date. In fact, there’s a TV show where people agree to get married the moment they meet. That doesn’t make it a sound strategy for building a long-term relationship.

And neither does you hitting me up about your services the very instant I accept your connection request. It’s rude, presumptuous, and desperate. I ignore the people who send me those messages. Maybe I’ll tell them “no thanks,” but usually only if they insist on repeating the same request a couple weeks later — you know, in case I missed it the first time.

The practice is so pervasive that I get at least two of these a week with the same copy-pasted sales pitch all asking for my hand in business marriage.

Part of my problem is that I can’t just refuse to accept people’s connection requests. I’ve written a few social media books, and people often connect with me after reading them. So I don’t want to be a jerk and snub a reader, but it’s getting harder to accept a request because I just know I’m going to get burned.

I can usually spot most LinkedIn spammers though. They tend to have a title that says “Business Development.” They live in a city or country that I have never been to or rarely visit, and yet they’re connected to 5 – 30 of my friends. And they usually work for some sort of web, SEO, or marketing agency.

I stopped accepting connection requests from people who fit that profile because I know what will be cluttering up my inbox 24 hours later.

More importantly, I’ve begun disconnecting from people who spammed me with their first message.

LinkedIn is for serious business connections, not a way for lazy salespeople to spam other people they’ve never met. And that’s what you’re doing: spamming people.

The only difference is you’re calling it business development and you’re (hopefully) doing it by clicking on the mouse yourself, instead of using the automation software that’s infected Twitter. I don’t care if you think it’s not spamming, or you tell yourself that you’re special and you’re not doing what those other people are doing, because you totally are.

You’re sending the same unwanted, unasked-for crap we get in our email inboxes. The only difference is you’re doing it on LinkedIn as if that somehow makes it okay.

Not only do I disconnect with these people, I will also occasionally report them to LinkedIn by clicking the “I don’t know this person” link or marking them as spam. If enough people do it, their account will be suspended or even terminated. And then maybe they’ll get the hint that this isn’t acceptable.

If you’re one of those people who uses LinkedIn instead of the phone to place your unwanted cold calls, why don’t you try some relationship building first? Start a conversation with people. Find out about them first. Don’t try to close the deal on the first date, don’t try to propose entering into a business relationship the moment you meet someone.

And I’ll make you another deal. If you buy a copy of my book and email me a photo of you holding it, I’ll agree to a 15-minute phone call with you about your company. Because if you’re going to make demands of my time without actually investing anything into the relationship, then I’m going to make a demand of my own.

Put your money where your mouth is. Invest in the relationship first, and then we’ll talk about what your company does.

(And then read the book. Maybe you’ll learn a better alternative to the “Married At First Sight” strategy.)

Photo credit: Qwertyxp2000 (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 4.0)

Ten Social Media Promotion Tips for Audio Drama Creators

I belong to an Audio Drama group over on Facebook, and the question came up about “how do we promote ourselves?” As a long-time audio drama writer and fan, this is something I’ve talked to other theater troupes about, as well as authors, musicians, and visual artists.

Since most (i.e. none) audio theater groups have a budget to do a lot of advertising, doing a little DIY personal branding is going to make a big splash. It will help you find an audience, grow your network of listeners, and by cooperating with other groups, help you cast a wider net to find audience members who are already interested in audio theater as an art form.

Here are ten things you can start doing to grow your audience.

Decoder Ring Theatre cast - Audio Drama creators from Toronto, Canada

Cast of Decoder Ring Theatre, an audio theatre company in Toronto. They produced a few of my radio plays several years ago.

  1. Appear as guests on other podcasts. We are in the golden age of podcasting. The people who are going to listen to your podcasts are the people who already listen to podcasts. So find a way to get interview spots on other people’s podcasts to talk about your work. Check out iTunes and Stitcher for writing podcasts, theater podcasts, horror fiction and comic book nerd podcasts, etc. Reach out to those people and ask them if you can be a guest on their podcast. For example, I’ve been on Park Howell’s Business of Story podcast twice to talk about writing and storytelling. Who better to talk about how storytelling and podcasting than a bunch of audio drama actors? (Tell him I sent you.)
  2. Advertise on Facebook. Set up a Facebook advertising account and create ads to appear only to specific people who fall within a certain age range, gender, family status, work status, and so on. Figure out who your Typical Listener is (soccer moms in their 30s, college students, etc.), and start targeting people who fit that persona. Write some ads, set a daily budget of a couple bucks, and then post the ads. Be willing to spend $40 – $50 per month for 3 months as a test.
  3. Set up a co-operative catalog company. Not actually a company, but just a clearinghouse website that contains all the different audio dramas out there. Everyone who’s involved chips in a few bucks, and that’s how you pay for the Facebook advertising. Advertise that company, rather than individual productions, and you can advertise longer, reach more people with diverse interests, and increase each other’s audiences. Plus, a website this big (possibly with a blog) is going to start winning Google searches for keywords like radio theater, audio theater, and so on.
  4. Create an email newsletter. You can either create your own email newsletter, or create one for this co-op website. Feature one or two audio dramas per issue. Everyone who’s a fan of ANY of the dramas can subscribe, and then you’re reaching a combined audience of everyone’s listeners. (I recommend MailChimp, because they have a free option.) If you start your own newsletter, it’s still a good idea to feature other favorite audio dramas in addition to your own work. Do that for each other, and introduce new artists to your audience.
  5. Do giveaways for fans, and ask them to share your work. Hold random drawings for sharers, and give away small prizes. Ask them to share your new episodes and other content with their own social networks, especially Twitter and Facebook. Give prizes for the most creative, the biggest reach, and so on.
  6. Advertise each other’s work on your own podcasts. At the end or in the middle of an episode, during a “commercial break,” play a preview of someone else’s show. Sort of like Amazon’s, “People who like this also bought X” feature. People listening to your podcast may also like this other podcast. Again, do this on a cooperative sharing model, where you create a “ring” of advertisers. A shares on B, B shares on C, C shares on A, etc.
  7. Build a Twitter following. Do a basic Twitter search, and find your Typical Listeners. They’re the ones talking about horror movies or superhero adventures, or whatever you’re producing. They talk about it in their bios, or they talk about it in their tweets. Follow those people, and then put them in a Private Twitter list that you watch daily. Talk to those people, respond to their tweets, answer their questions. Build relationships with them. They’ll want to support you because you’re Twitter buddies.
  8. Follow certain #hashtag topics on Twitter. Is there something happening in the news that ties into your audio drama? Set up a column for that particular term and see if there are any tweets you can respond to. (Use Tweetdeck to easily see and respond to your lists.) Then, when it seems appropriate and not creepy, respond to a tweet with your own. Don’t be ham-handed and say, “Oh, we wrote an audio drama about that. Here it is!” Rather, just participate in the conversation naturally. If people are interested in you and want to know why you’re interested in the subject, they’ll check out your Twitter page. Hopefully you’ve got your audio drama and the website in your Twitter bio.
  9. Don’t forget the visual element. Audio drama may be for the ears only, but if you can add a visual element to your work, do it. If you do live recordings, create a video of those, and post them to YouTube. If you ever perform live in public, share it on Periscope or Facebook Live video. Take photos of people creating the audio drama, and post those to your Instagram account and Facebook, and turn those into stories. And if you’re a fan of the old radio technology, take photos or find others, and post those to Pinterest. Your content may not be for the ear, but there’s still a visual element worth sharing.
  10. Write audio drama reviews. Whether you post it on your own blog, or even if you started the co-op company in #3 and blog for it, review other audio dramas. These don’t have to be critiques and criticism, as if you’re a movie critic. Rather, write a review, where you discuss things that happened, what you enjoyed, etc. (Remember, you all know each other, so don’t be an a-hole!) Publish those reviews as guest articles in as many places as you can too, where others can read them.

The Branding Yourself cover. Cover design is just one important facet of writing books.If you focus on just two or three of these items, you can expand your audience of listeners and fans. Then, just be sure to use Google Analytics to measure traffic to your website, Twitter analytics to see how your audience is growing and how they’re engaging with your tweets, and then your podcast analytics to see if any growth there coincides with your new social media efforts.

Want to know about artist branding and social media promotion? Check out my book,Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself. The book is now in its third edition, and is published by Que Biz-Tech, an imprint of Pearson Publishing.

Twitter Verified Self-Proclaimed White Supremacist

Twitter verified a Nazi yesterday.

You know those little blue checkmarks some people have next to their Twitter handles? That basically “verifies” that yes, this person is at least semi-famous. Or is someone of “public interest.”

A few years ago, when the Verified symbol first showed up, only celebrities had them. Movie stars had them. Rock stars had them. Professional athletes had them. Big-time authors had them.

Basically if you had a little blue checkmark next to your name, it meant you were someone famous.

Then, less famous people started getting them. Journalists of national publications got them. Radio DJs got them. Local TV anchors got them.

And soon after that, not-really-famous-but-you’ve-maybe-kind-of-heard-of-them people started getting them. Scott Monty (@ScottMonty) got one, partly because he’s been a big name in social media for years, partly because he’s a well-known Sherlock Holmes podcaster, but mostly because he was in the public eye as Ford’s social media manager for years. Other local journalists got them, novel authors, and small business owners.

Even people who have over 100,000 followers (that they most likely got through cheating) but haven’t even published 10,000 tweets are Verified. (I know, because one of them followed me yesterday.)

I, however, am not.

I’ve struggled with whether I even want the little blue checkmark. On the one hand, it seems rather needy and high school-ish, like jumping on the latest fashion trends because all the cool kids are wearing them. On the other hand, I never did what the so-called “cool kids” did in high school because I thought they were morons.

My good friend and book co-author Jason Falls (@JasonFalls) is not Verified. He thinks it’s stupid. And I mostly agree. It just seems so needy and insecure to try to fit in with the cool kids, because the cool kids are by and large insufferable asshats.

Still, it would be nice to have. There’s still a small part of me that wants that little blue checkmark, because it would be so validating. Like what I did was important. And in the public interest.

But I don’t have it.

Twitter verified this white supremacistOh, it’s not for lack of trying. I applied for it a few weeks ago. I cited the four books I co-authored — including Branding Yourself (which has a whole chapter on Twitter), No Bullshit Social Media (which mentions Twitter constantly, and was a groundbreaking social media book in 2011), The Owned Media Doctrine, and of course, Twitter Marketing for Dummies (which I “ghost co-authored” in 2009).

I also mentioned my newspaper humor column, which I have written every week for the last 21+ years.

And I mentioned that I was the 2016 Jack Kerouac House writer-in-residence.

But it wasn’t good enough. I received a rejection email that didn’t actually explain why I didn’t get it. That’s fine. I can deal with that. Maybe my books aren’t famous enough. Or they were all written more than four years ago (although the third edition of Branding Yourself dropped this month). Or that nearly all the 10 Indiana newspapers that publish my column are weeklies.

Or maybe it’s because I’m not a white supremacist.

Because Twitter verified Jason Kessler, the self-professed white supremacist who organized the Charlottesville white supremacist rally that left one protestor dead.

They verified him, and Twitter went nuts and started tweeting to Twitter’s CEO @Jack Dorsey in protest.

Am I bitter that I wasn’t verified? No. Am I angry? No. Am I annoyed that a Nazi was verified before I was?

Sure, a little bit.

I write books that help people find jobs. I write books that help businesses be more successful. I write newspaper columns that make people laugh. I don’t try to oppress people, denigrate minority groups, organize violent rallies, or joke about the death of a protestor and call her “a fat, disgusting Communist.”

I mean, if you were to ask people who should be verified I would hope “four-time non-fiction book author” would rank somewhere above “white supremacist Nazi dirtbag.”

Doesn’t that make sense? That someone who contributes to the betterment of society would be slightly more worthy of verification than someone who calls for the wholesale genocide of an entire race of people?

I mean, I know I’m old-fashioned, but I figured helping people succeed was more noble than joking about their deaths.

At the very least, Twitter, don’t verify this guy. Remove the verification. I don’t have to have it. In fact, I don’t think I want it anymore. If you’ve granted it to something you find on the bottom of your shoe, I don’t want it.

But for God’s sake, don’t give it to someone who promotes hate and genocide. I thought you were better than that.

Don’t Ignore Written Content Marketing for the Sake of Video

Marketers everywhere have begun singing the praises of video so loudly, they sound like Oprah at Christmas.

“You need a video! And you need a video! Everyone needs a video!”

Sure, it’s the new and exciting way to share information. Everyone who’s got a mobile phone has the means for creating, distributing, and watching of all sorts of video content. I watch Netflix while I eat breakfast. My kids watch comedy videos throughout the day. And we’ve all used YouTube as a search engine to solve a problem — I changed out my air conditioning filter a few weeks ago, thanks to a South Korean video.

Except video is not, and should not, be the final word when it comes to content marketing.

The written word should still get most of our attention as content marketers. If you’re going to add video to your marketing efforts, then you need to increase your overall content marketing creation. Don’t replace written content with video content and hope for the same engagement rates.

For one thing, gathering information by video is time consuming. If people want to do a lot of research about a major purchase, videos will help, but your customers still want written specs, performance details, and product information. And they want to be able to look details up quickly, rather than watch 87 minutes of video to find one specific detail again.

(Think of it this way: if you want to know the horsepower of your car, are you going to Google it or watch a 10-minute product video and hope you catch it?)

For another, video viewing is not going to replace reading. We’re not going to stop reading books in favor of watching someone read them to us on video. If that were the case, the audiobook revolution would have been massive, and brought about a faster end to bookstores.

We’re also not going to stop reading news articles online in favor of videos of those same articles being read to us. And before you say “but TV news!” keep in mind that most individual news stories only get 20 – 30 seconds of airtime. And that there’s also a more thoroughly written version of each story on a news channel’s website.

In other words. . .

Video Will Never Replace the Written Word

A shoulder-mounted RCA VHS video camera. Not suitable for video content marketing, no matter what happens!

I used one of these in high school. We thought we were hot stuff then!

So before you outfit your entire company with GoPros and YouTube accounts and flood the world with your video masterpieces, consider these four problems with video.

1) Most of us do not do well speaking off the cuff in front of an audience. We stammer, stutter, and lose our train of thought when we’re having a normal conversation, let alone if we’re in front of an audience and are not 100 percent prepared. And there are a lot of videos where people just hit record and started talking.

Don’t believe me? Pick a topic — how the original Star Wars trilogy is an allegory for today’s American political system — and record yourself talking about it for five solid minutes.

“But that’s not how I’d do it!” you protest. “I’d prepare and practice and make sure I got everything down just right.”

I know you will. Which means it will take 4 – 6 hours to produce a five-minute video. Now squeeze that time into your normal workday of meetings, writing TPS reports, and doing your actual work.

Meanwhile, I wrote this blog post, including edits, in about 90 minutes. I could write four blog posts in 6 hours.

2) A visual element is not always helpful. A lot of video content is just talking head videos of someone straight staring at their camera, usually on their laptop, and talking to us for three to five to ten minutes at a time.

Why the hell are we watching this? What are you actually doing that’s so interesting that I need to stop everything I’m doing and stare at my phone to watch your mouth move?

Are there graphics? No. Special effects? No. Is their kid going to run in and do something awesome? No. It’s just that person’s head, talking, for several minutes without doing anything else.

This is an inefficient use of your viewers’ time. Your video can easily be replaced with an MP3 and nothing will change. There’s no actual visual value that requires the amount of focus we usually put into video viewing. This information could be shared in a podcast or a blog article instead, rather than us taking the time to watch you talk.

I started listening to the audio tracks of TED talks for this very reason. When I realized the talks are usually nothing more than someone standing on a stage with a few slides, I found I could listen to them in the car during my commute. Nothing changed, the information wasn’t any different, and my life wasn’t better or worse for having done it.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: if we can listen to your video without missing anything important, you didn’t need to make it a video. Consider making a podcast instead.

Photo of F. W. Murnau, noted German film director.

Photo of F. W. Murnau, noted German film director.

3) A lot of videos have poor production values. Most mediocre video content is usually shot on a mobile phone, and it shows. The lighting is poor, or the lens is dirty, or the person forgets and holds the camera vertically, so we all have to turn our heads 90 degrees just to see what’s going on.

And the sound is all tinny, like the speaker is in a giant coffee can, or sitting in the bathroom 20 feet from the microphone.

If you want to make good — and I mean good videos, not just “barely acceptable” ones — you need to invest in a good DSLR camera, a decent lavaliere/lapel microphone, and a tripod. And you need to get very good at using them. That means hours of practice, learning how to use the equipment properly.

Sure, you can make an okay cell phone video, but if that’s your company’s video marketing strategy, just shut the business down now and send everyone home. Otherwise, you need to hire a dedicated staffer whose sole job is to make videos, or you need to outsource your video production work to professional video marketers who know how to do this kind of thing quickly and efficiently. (For one thing, they can produce your 5-minute video in an hour or two.)

4) Short videos are inefficient. This is the biggie: The average person speaks at 100 – 150 words per minute, but the average adult reading speed is 300 wpm. (It’s also 450 wpm for the average college student, and 575 for high level executives).

That means a 300 word video will take 2 – 3 minutes to watch, but your average customer can read that same 300 word article in 30 – 60 seconds. Meanwhile, your college student will read it in 45 seconds, and your executive will read it in nearly 30.

This article clocks in at roughly 1600 words, which should take approximately 5 – 6 minutes for the average person to read (3+ minutes for our average college student, slightly less than 3 for our executive). But if I read it to you in a video, you’ll have to watch it for 10 – 16 minutes.

Now, imagine reading 12 1000-word articles in your favorite business magazine versus watching 12 videos of the same word count. That’s 24 – 48 minutes of reading versus 120 minutes of viewing.

Videos are great if you can add strong visual elements to them, like Moz’s Whiteboard Friday videos. There, Moz president Rand Fishkin lays out the latest research and developments in search engine optimization, using a whiteboard to illustrate his point.

But without the whiteboard, he’s just another Wil-Wheaton-with-a-handlebar-mustache lookalike talking to a video camera, and the information is much less enjoyable to watch or easy to absorb.

Bottom line: I don’t want to watch someone talk to me for 5 minutes when I can read that same block of text in less than 2 minutes. Combine that with bad production values, poor sound, and lots of hemming and hawing, and you can understand why “Just flip on your phone’s camera and start talking” is bad advice.

By all means, use video in your content marketing. It’s important, it’s helpful, and it’s the wave of the future. But just for God’s sake, do it right! Get proper equipment, learn how to use it, and write scripts of your talk beforehand. Practice and prepare. And if you need to, join a Toastmaster’s club and improve your public speaking.

Just don’t half-ass your video content because someone told you it was as easy as putting your phone in selfie mode and talking into it.

When it’s done properly, video content is a beautiful sight to behold: explainer videos, demonstration videos like Will It Blend, or even entertainment videos, like JW Marriott’s amazing “The Two Bellmen” series. Even videos of you giving a talk at a conference are great uses of video.

But don’t expect video content marketing to replace written content marketing anytime soon. Don’t fire your copywriters and replace them with GoPros and Quentin Tarantino wannabes.

Video will expand over the coming years, and we’ll be able to make it look better more easily and for less money, but don’t stop focusing on improving your writing skills or your written content.

Photo credit: Darian Hildebrand (Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons 3.0)
Photo #2 credit: Subject: Friedrich William Murnau (Photographer unknown. This photograph is in the public domain in the United States and Russia.)

LinkedIn Etiquette: No, I Don’t Want What You’re Selling

As I connect with marketers on LinkedIn, I’m reminded about what Gary Vaynerchuk once said about high school kids and relationships.

They’re always trying to close on the first date.

I’ve lost count of the number of people on LinkedIn who wanted to connect with me, only to turn around and immediately email me with whatever they’re selling.

It’s happened to me for nine years, and I can tell you exactly how many people I’ve responded to with any interest: zero.

I see most people who sell to me on LinkedIn as snake oil salesmen (and women)While I’m not an avid LinkedIn user, I do check it a few times a week, respond to non-sales messages, and will even reach out to a few people for connections.

But I hate it when people I’ve never met try to sell to me on something I never said I needed.

I mean, maybe if I expressed some interest in a particular service, or I publicly lamented about a problem I was having, then I might be interested in what these marketers and salespeople have to say. If I say I hate WordPress because it’s so hard to figure out, or if I gripe that managing my accounts takes too long, then I would expect to hear from WordPress designers or accountants.

(By the way, I’m good on WordPress and accounting. No problems there.)

But when they contact me about their web design, mobile app design, or SEO services, it’s clear they never even read my website, let alone my profile.

When they DM me on Twitter — “Hi, , thanks for connecting! Here’s a free ebook I wrote, which has nothing to do with anything you do for your job!” — I write a similarly-worded message, and invite them to visit my own humor website. I even told a few I would be willing to listen to their sales pitch if they did it. I rarely get a response, which makes me wonder if they read their DMs.

While some people over-connect on LinkedIn, trying to amass as many connections as they can, I take a more reserved approach. I’ll reach out to people I’ve met before, and connect with them. However, I’m less reserved when it comes to accepting connections, because I don’t know if any of them are readers or have bought one of my books. Rather than appear rude, I’ve accepted the connections, only to get a sales message less than 12 hours later.

The Facebook Problem

The problem is easy to identify on Facebook. I think we’ve all gotten these messages. Depending on your gender, a young woman or young man with only two photos on their profile will send a friend request. They’re not in your friend network, except for maybe one mutual friend. Their profile only has one or two photos, slightly sexy, but not overly provocative. And you have no idea how you would know this person.

You only have to accept a couple of these to realize this is some form of spam. The account either changes to porn, or you’re bombarded with private message communication requests. After a couple of these, you learn to ignore friend requests from anyone who does not know several of your friends of both genders.

(Helpful hint: Guys, it’s a telltale sign — and also a little creepy — when a 20-something woman’s only friends are men in their 40s and older.)

We have the same kind of problem on LinkedIn. So many people fail to change their “I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn” message that most people just accept it. I used to be more picky, and would only accept people who had updated their message. But I decided I was fighting a losing battle, and gave that up.

As a result, I fall prey to every salesperson who’s using LinkedIn to scope out their next cold call. Rather than trying to build a relationship or gauge my interest, they’re immediately pestering me for phone meetings and conference calls.

An accepted connection on LinkedIn does not mean I want to be sold to, especially when that’s the first communication I get from you. Not even a “hi, thanks for connecting.” Just a “Hi, we provide the identical service hundreds of other people have contacted you about.”

If you truly want to become a potential partner or vendor, take the time to gauge my interest and my needs. Provide me with useful information that will help me do my own job better and make my life easier. Share information, provide valuable content, and prove yourself to be someone who’s smart, knowledgeable, and capable of doing what you claim.

Don’t try to sell me in your very first communication. That’s a guaranteed “No.”

Photo credit: Carol Highsmith (Wikimedia Commons, Library of Congress, Public Domain)

Why I’m Decimating My Twitter Account

Last year, my friend and co-author, Kyle Lacy, pissed off thousands of people when he blew up his entire Twitter account, unfollowed nearly everyone he was following, and then slowly started following back the essential people.

I never noticed.

My Twitter was so full of junk and noise that I never noticed that he re-followed me. (He did! I checked. Shut up.)

Kyle’s problem, he told me, was that he was following so many people — close to 60,000 — who weren’t saying anything useful, it was clogging up his Twitter feed. He also admitted — reluctantly — that he hadn’t properly used Twitter lists to keep track of different groups of people.

So his only option was the nuclear one.

Thousands of people unfollowed him, upset that he unfollowed them, and he’s only following 1,500+ people right now. But he’s got a better handle on his Twitter feed than he’s had since he joined in 2008. He had over 50,000 followers, and he’s now down to 36,000+.

I’ve been thinking about Kyle’s nuclear option lately, especially as I’ve been looking at my general Twitter feed each morning, and it’s filled with noise, chatter, and completely useless garbage.

It’s motivational quotes, reminders to download a new ebook, more motivational quotes, invitations to webinars, articles about how high achievers who are not me achieve greatness, a #hashtag #filled #tweet, the latest Mashable article, and more motivational quotes.

The signal-to-noise ratio on Twitter is terrible. It’s like trying to find a radio station in the middle of the desert. There’s a lot of static, but no music.

It’s gotten worse as Twitter changed its algorithm, expanding on their “While You Were Away” feature. They want you to see the tweets they think you will appreciate.

I don’t. These new tweets are all terrible. All of them. (Except for @VeryLonelyLuke. That guy’s hilarious.)

So how can I reduce the noise? How can I restore some semblance of usefulness to my general Twitter stream?

Checking under the hood: I think I see your problem

I plugged my Twitter account into ManageFlitter to see if I could figure out the problem.

The problem was a whole bunch of people with between 50,0000 – 1 million followers, evenly split between people who were following me and not following me. There were about 3,000 people out of the 14,000 people I was following.

I even hid verified accounts from the mix, so I wasn’t including celebrities or news organizations.

What I was left with were the self-published authors and social media “experts” who yo-yo follow others to artificially inflate their accounts.

Filthy rotten spammers” (FRS), as I like to call them.

FRSes will follow thousands of people, get a few thousand follow-backs, then unfollow everyone, and start all over. They do this to get past Twitter’s follower limit and grow their accounts by leaps and bounds.

You can easily spot an FRS: they have 50,000+ followers and have written a surprisingly small number of tweets.

This is how you can spot a Filthy Rotten Spammer on Twitter.

This is how you can spot a Filthy Rotten Spammer on Twitter.

The worst are the ones with more than 100,000 followers, and 150,000 tweets. These are the people who spend a few hours every day retweeting all the crap they find in their own Twitter feeds.

Seriously, some of these people send nearly 100 tweets in a day! When I checked their stream, it was retweet after retweet, with the occasional “You’re welcome!” sent to someone who thanked them for the RT. As if the FRS had done them a huge favor.

Pruning and trimming: Seeing some progress

With ManageFlitter’s help, I started unfollowing the people in the 50K-1M range who weren’t following me back.

I realized I had followed those people because they followed me first. I could tell, because as I moused over each name on ManageFlitter, their bio popped up, and I could see they weren’t someone I would normally reach out to first.

(Trust me, I don’t eagerly follow people offering yoga and vegetarian-eating tips unless we’re already friends.)

I unfollowed nearly 1200 people in an hour. I could have gone faster, but I did want to make sure I wasn’t unfollowing people I actually found interesting.

However, this wasn’t all the FRSes. I checked my Twitter feed again, and there was still a lot of crap in my stream. It was better, but not great.

I showed all the people who were following me, sorted by number of followers in descending order, and excluded all the verified accounts. This hid accounts for CNN, the New York Times, and Alyssa Milano er, I mean, Colts punter Pat McAfee. (Alyssa Milano loves baseball. Shut up.)

You can use these filters on ManageFlitter to hide people you may actually want to keep.

You can use these filters on ManageFlitter to hide people you may actually want to keep.

With this new list, I found another 500 or so people I could eliminate. Problem is, I hit ManageFlitter’s 1700-unfollowers-in-a-day limit, and have to wait for 24 hours to finish the job.

For $12/month, I get unlimited following, plus all kinds of other features, including creating white lists of high-value accounts, integrate and manage my Twitter lists, and various analytics capabilities. But I’m going finish this experiment first before I commit to it.

Initial results: Prognosis good

After my initial pruning, which took about 90 minutes, I could already see a difference in my Twitter stream. I rediscovered some old Twitter accounts that I hadn’t seen in months, including Doug Bursch, Cathy Day, and a few others.

While I’m not exploding my Twitter feed like Kyle did last year, I am going after large chunks of it and pruning off a lot of deadwood in the hopes that my network will yield a whole lot more signal than noise.

While Twitter will no longer be the conversational tool that it once was — thanks a lot, marketers and filthy rotten spammers! — it will at least be a whole lot more useful to me than it was just a few days ago.

#Ferguson Shows Why Citizen Journalism Is Still Critical

If you’ve been keeping up with the news from Ferguson, Missouri, chances are a lot of the updates and photos are coming from individuals who aren’t journalists, posting live video feeds from their cell phones. When members of the traditional media were being arrested by the police, and the cable news stations were all kicked out or, in the case of Al Jazeera Television, fired at with gas grenades, it was often the alternative news sources and citizen journalists who fed us new information and updates.

I spent most of last Friday night, as well as last night (Monday), following what was happening in Ferguson through a variety of Twitter users, including Vice News, Alice Speri, Ryan Reilly, and Adam Serwer, as well as alderman Antonio French (who was arrested Friday night), his wife @Senka, and several LiveStream, Ustream, and Vine users. That’s not to say the mainstream media wasn’t there — they were. But on that first night, most of the video footage and images they replayed over and over on CNN were coming from people uploading them from their phones to Twitter and Instagram.

 

I won’t rehash what’s been happening this week — the militarized police response, the protests, the tear gas and the flash grenades. The fact that you know about it at all is thanks to the mainstream media, the alternative and non-traditional media (Huffington Post, Vice News, Freedom of the Press), and citizen journalists. (Update: The police kicked nearly all the media out of the area at 12:00 am CDT, often pointing guns, firing tear gas, and threatening to arrest them. One journalist, Tim Pool, allegedly had his press badge ripped off his chest and told by a police officer, he “didn’t give a shit.”)

Citizen journalists can range from anyone with a Twitter account and a cell phone to an independent news organization as complex as a large blog or an online news website, like The American Reporter (disclosure: I’ve been the humor columnist for the American Reporter since 1997). And anyone with that basic technology can record and disseminate news on a micro scale, or have your content seen around the world by tens of thousands of people.

While the term citizen journalists is often spoken with air quotes around that second word, especially by professional journos, they still play an important role in getting out early information. Ever since George Holliday recorded the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles 20 years ago with a Sony Handycam, private citizens have become citizen watchdogs against the police, the government, and in some cases, even the media themselves.

In many cases, they’ve been doing it without protection, at their own risk, and without the benefit of a publication’s legal team to back them up. They’re the people who find themselves at the center of the action and rather than run away, they pull out their cell phones, hit the button, and stand around a little longer than is safe or wise.

This means anyone can upload videos of things they think are wrong, or want to record for posterity and history.

Of course this means we also have to become critical thinkers and viewers, making sure that what we’re seeing is real, and not a hoax. That we’re re-sharing news from people we trust, and not just blindly retweeting everything with the trending hashtag of the day.

We Also Need to Trust Our Technology

But while we were watching Ferguson news on Twitter, it turns out Facebook’s algorithm didn’t even allow #Ferguson news to show up in our news feeds at all. On that Friday night, if you weren’t looking at Twitter, you didn’t even know anything was going on. (And if you rely on Twitter’s U.S. trending reports to see what’s happening, you were told that #ThatsSoRaven was infinitely more important than #Ferguson, as the tweens’ show trended that night, while the civil unrest in our own country was supposedly not even happening. The hashtag trended in individual cities like Indianapolis and Nashville, but not the country as a whole.)

Medium writer Zeynep Tufecki argues that this shows why not only is net neutrality important — what if Facebook and Twitter didn’t want us to know about Ferguson? They didn’t mess with the algorithm, but what if they had decided to play that card? — but even the technology used by both real and citizen journalists could be affected. California is considering legislation that will require “kill switches” in cell phones. While the technology is there to discourage violent cell phone theft, who’s to say an overeager militarized police department won’t force a wireless company to throw that same switch when they’re about to come down on a crowd of protestors?

Citizen journalism isn’t going away, despite the gnashing of teething and rending of garments by the professional journalists who look down on the amateurs with only slightly less scorn than a militarized police force. It’s here to stay, and as we’ve seen in Ferguson, it sometimes may be the only source of information we have for a while.