Part 4: Measure once, Twice Cut

If you’ve been paying attention, and not just to the likes and shares, you can often predict what will happen next. It far less like rocket science and more like doing the accounting for your business. Figuring out what is working and worth it, as opposed to that which is easy but a waste of time.

What you’ll learn:

  • As previously, you have to measure or all is for naught
  • When measuring to always remember prevailing wisdoms are futile
  • Value is a proposition, always
  • Your worth is always self-defined
  • The key is not give up just before it starts to work

Start at the beginning

In the life of anyone who dares to dream you easily forget that it is a journey. It is easy to get swept up, along your way, to becoming what you are and hope to achieve. The proverbial success starts along that path as any do with just one step.

That step and what we’ve been building in as the subtext to this series is to measure what you are doing. Measure your success, what fails, and most of all how far you’ve come. It is easy in today’s over-reliance on vanity metrics to think the real worth is in likes, shares, retweets, or other superficial numbers.

It is not a popularity contest, and you shouldn’t approach it like it is.

That just as many people act or react without ever having laid a finger on those buttons. Even with the new introductions of Interactions or changing from fave to a heart, that doesn’t mean they love you. The great silent majority, and if you just search your own reactions, you will know that you see so much more on social media than you comment, like, or share.

Semantics matter, Semiotics too

So much context is lost when the world suddenly has to communicate in words when that is not everyone’s area of expertise. Which is why animated gif reactions are so much more popular and every platform is adopting them currently. Words alone do not convey the tone or body language we as humans need to process the wor(l)d.

A world of words is a writer’s domain. So naturally they should have been the beneficiary of all this technological boon. Yet, quite the opposite happened. In the oft vaunted or contentious ‘First Amendment’ debates all our words are equal. The ones that harm, alongside the ones that help. Ones which promote us or demote us, fall with equal trajectory into the great silo that is social media. The ones that are costly to produce got priced out in favor of those donated for free exposure.

The changing paradigm is their connections. How they connect you to both those that love what you do, and the cost of doing business with the squeaky wheel words always in need of grease. Someday they’ll look back on this time the irreality of social media that has the impact as the Bullying debates previously alerted us to end a life. The downward spiral of cost-benefits for writers (and creatives generally) means that only the very privileged or those willing to work for free can make a living.

A rising tide lifts all boats

Content of all forms really only succeeds when there is already a stream (of your own work!) that it fits into. Can’t think of any overnight viral success that doesn’t follow this concept. Each time, it is with great care and caution that we investigate any claims to the contrary. Much of the darlings of today were yesterday’s unheard of wannabes striving valiantly against the norm. Or able to pervert the norms to their particular brand.

So it is easy to say that nothing is new or original. Except your story, the one only you can tell. Be that in words, art, videos, or even in tweets. The common denominator being that if you put it out there, your work will speak for itself. Today’s climate doesn’t (nor has it historically) rewarded originality, even as it claims to have found the latest & greatest. Typically in Western culture only that which can be exploited has been given space.

That might seem odd, in a book that is telling you how to publish or reap the rewards of your hard work. Yet it as blunt as a New Yawker blowing his horn at you in the crosswalk while you are against the light. The people’s whose position you covet today, that inspire you or you aspire to, figured out how to exploit themselves instead of letting someone else do it for them.

Just a lurch to the right, then a step to the left

This universal advice, while seemingly crass and over-generalizing should cause horror in any artist. Any human if we are honest, but in an age where we all gather around a glowing box to watch people pretend to be reality in order to entertain ourselves while they get huge ratings, charge more to people who want to sell us a dream, is a sign of the times.

Elegantly exploiting yourself can end in sorrow. Artistically exploiting yourself can earn you an Andy Warhol trophy. Even as we all swear up and down this is not what we want, the Kiss Cam literally wouldn’t exist or have people performing for if we didn’t on some level crave the attention. Artist are told repeatedly that they are sellouts, their work less worthy, if it receives attention. What these well meaning scolds mean is that it if it is created for attention, then yes, it should be handled superficially. Anything with meaning and merit, be that an Instagram snapshot or your short story you are pitching, should be created because you are practicing your craft.

That you are assured, even when you don’t feel like it, that there is artistic merit to it. Otherwise scrap it and start again! If you are journaling your becoming via your Instagram and this is your brand, and you make money off of it, and then one day you realize as only a youth could it was all superficial & vain, but still somehow manage in your quitting to rank on Time’s List of Most Influential on Social Media.

That is a cynical snapshot of the young woman who after years of doing it, happened upon the feeling of having been exploited in the process. It subverted we are told her truest intention. That is why you need to have a strategy for your brand, exploit yourself for good intentions, and with meaning or purpose.

Even in giving up, her story still had legs, in a society that both engages in unprecedented time on social media, but thinks it all a waste of time. Many if not all of the people who do this for a living, plus a great deal that followed her, considered the final curtain call to be a further plea for attention. It extended her brand, and sets her up perfectly to come back with growth, lessons learned, and much more real life experiences that can be shared via social media to help the rest of us hopelessly addicted to it understand the true meaning of life.

Is it true what they say about you?

It is also a story & strategy as old as time. Recent memories include Twinkies, or stretching all the way back to New Coke. This isn’t cynical, but it what gets erased, like old mixtapes or VHS when you forget your wedding memories were on there & tape over it. When you lose a favorite shirt in the breakup, or forget your shoes after a night out on the town. Reduced to memory, in a now ever-encroaching cycle where everything gets done over and over again, like the Crying Jordan meme.

Language is viral. The initial virus for humanoids. Once having discovered our voice, we learned to communicate. As technology advanced we learned how to put all that down in writing, extending the lifespan of those words. We have been telling stories since before the invention of writing, and continue that tradition today. Stories snapchatted or periscoped into small vignettes that your nearest and dearest, or anyone with a broadband connection can share makes storytelling visually possible.

This should overwhelm us all, and it doesn’t. Or we act like it won’t, until it reaches peak adoption plateaus. Each time you get in a car or a plane, as we have done so many times before, we experience what a hundred years ago was scoffed at, and now is considered mildly frustrating. Like all those people in a tin can in the sky and we expect it to go smoothly, or we are travelling to work along with millions the nation over and still get road rage over the slightest thing.

The reason you can fly or drive anywhere with any success is because rules and best practices emerged, and formed, were codified into laws and actions that allow us to converge with only a low statistically speaking loss of life or property.

That same paradigm applies online, when all of this is brand new. However, out of apathy, do nothing but cling to an economy or a vestigial belief in your agrarian feeling lifestyle is hubris. That an age of craftsmanship died alongside the invention of the Industrial Revolution. That seismic shift is exactly playing out today. Those destined to reap the benefits are the first ones to read the writing on the wall without reactionarily reaching for the shiniest ball in their field of vision.

The long & short of it

The common refrain is: I tried it, it didn’t work! Yet when asked specifically about how it didn’t work on social media am met with an appalling lack of depth. Sure it takes too much time, work, or effort, but measured against what? The kind of referrals you get when you do nothing? If you aren’t using social media to connect you to people who can propel your work, assist in its creation, or help you sell it, then by all means it isn’t going to work. Not now, and possibly never.

Yet you have to measure, even your silly running commentary, and growth as an artist to see if possibly there isn’t a niche you would fit quite nicely into. That perhaps what didn’t work is you made it about you, not them. It is an easy trap to fall into, and we all do it. The key is to not make that they only way you use it.

Have you ever had someone look at your work, then dismiss like that was so easy anyone could do it? Well now imagine not being taken seriously by clients, families and friends for over a decade while you specialized in social media & web development. These two things intersect, people now think anyone can do what you do with the ease of creating a meme, or writing a blog post, or a tweet. That your photography can and will be stolen and pressed into service with only an @ for thanks.

Social media should require the effort occasionally that you show to your accounting and bookkeeping. For artist this is usually null. Especially if you are starting out, or doing it on the side. Makes no difference, for if you paid attention to how long it took you to create something, worthwhile and capable of selling, then you’d suddenly realize that it is almost priceless. But in order to not be continually operating in the red, and losing money as a hobby and dilettante, you should check your metrics.

Analytics are your friend, even if you hate numbers. Confession time, loathe math, love statistics. Don’t ask, it is a longer story than you have time for. Yet visualizing  data, those number sets, is not only creative, it is an art form. Seeing beyond how they are usually presented which is in a strictly consumerist society or vanity laden way is our specialty. That often the clue you were looking for as an artist or entrepreneur is right there.

Testing, and then trying again, and testing some more will bring you the proverbial light bulb moment. Unlocking the networks that might have previously eluded you. It may sound hard, but these modern tools, most available at no extra charge are already there. So it is no different than the way you are able to stretch a dollar, do it on the weekends, and so forth that allow you that superhuman ability to create in the same 24 hours the rest of us have, but gets gobbled up by babies, bills, and life.

So don’t keep doing the same thing, or what your friends & mentor do. Even if you desperately want what they have. What is never revealed in those human interest story pieces about overnight successes is the amount of hours they put into preparing for their success, measuring results, having some sort of performance indicators. Also how all that preparation facilitated that call, the introduction, or casual tweet that got them noticed and brought them everything they’d been dreaming for.

Since we keep saying measure, but giving no specific examples tomorrow’s entry will be some fun and remedial math tips from those of us who’d rather be watching paint dry, preferably oils on canvas. Stay tuned for how you can make social media work for you!

Part 5→