I just got back from a week in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge and a very long drive between Washington State and my home in Northern California by way of Powell’s Books in Portland. I’m wiped out. I left you pondering whether blogs are dead or just evolving into books, plus that pesky question of how to find time to write either one. Now this week I’m going to very quickly teach you absolutely everything I know about social media, all of which I learned from Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess.
Some of you might remember Jenny. I interviewed her a long time ago, eschewing the normal questions that interviewers were asking her, like, “When did you start blogging?” “How long did it take to build your incredibly faithful following?” “Why did you name your dead warthog after the 20th US president?” “How do you get your cat to sit on your head like that?” and, “Why does Victor only wear a thong and a flip-flop?”
I asked her which famous comedian she would eat first if she were trapped on a desert island.
And because this is a writing blog, I asked her about the book she was writing, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir), which she said she’d been writing for about ten years then. Two weeks later her agent sold it to Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam.
Anyway, I’m always really busy, so Jenny is pretty much the only person I ever look up on Twitter just to see what bizarre commentary she’s been sharing with the world in sentences of 140 characters or less. She’s out there every week, just like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse, stirring up the members of her tribe into a frenzy.
So here are my cardinal rules of social media, every single one of them stolen from her:
Talk to your readers as though you were all real people, not marketers and target markets
Social media is really only a glorified version of millions of little kids holding tin cans at opposite ends of an incredibly long and convoluted piece of string.
A background like mine in journalism and writing books is kind of strange for a blogger, because those types of writing don’t have readers attached to the other ends as you’re writing. You hope readers are going to materialize. But they haven’t done it yet.
Which means even if you say something funny and it makes the reader think of something even funnier, you will never be laughing on different parts of the planet together at exactly the same time. And if you say something sad and it makes them tear up, you will never be feeling that bond of grief in the same moment. And if you say something meaningful that makes the top of their head blow right off, you will never, ever see the fireworks in the distance in your own sky.
But when we’re out here on the intertubes together, we sometimes do cross paths in the same moment, and the serendipity of that can blossom into a spontaneous gang all over the place, all of us sharing an impossibly thrilling instant in the history of the human race.
Show your real sense of humor, with perhaps slightly less profanity
I know. Jenny has said many of the people who’ve known her in her life don’t know about her profanity. But everyone who’s ever known me sure knows about mine.
I think of it as Monopoly money, and I figure I spent the vast majority of my little paper bucks in my adolescence and twenties. So now that I’m kind of elderly you guys are spared the worst of it.
Still, I grew up in an enormous extended family of California Gothic wiseacres, where tough talk was always about the punchlines, and opinions were worth a whole lot but getting a laugh out of someone was worth more. I married my husband partly because he makes me laugh harder than anyone I’ve ever known.
And I’ve found the blogoshere to be an extraordinarily liberating world, where I can stop wondering whether or not anyone else is laughing and just assume that if you don’t have the same sense of humor I do you’ll quietly wander away, and if you do we’ll wind up laughing together.
Have the courage to carry on nonsense monologues with yourself
This is the biggest thing I’ve learned from Jenny about Twitter: a lot more people are reading it at any given time than it seems, and those people love to be entertained. Not only that, some percentage of them love to jump in and entertain back.
This doesn’t mean anyone wants to know what I had for lunch. Even I don’t care what I had for lunch.
But when I did impromptu #editingchats last year, people came out of the woodwork to join in, even calling to each other like kids on a playground, “Whoo-hoo! They’ve started a game over there. Let’s go!”
And every time I’ve just gotten silly, I’ve received instant responses from people who love silliness—people who love that moment when we can all see the fireworks going off in the distance in the same shared sky.
Trust your readers & express sincere gratitude for them
This is something the writers of books and periodicals don’t train themselves to do, and it’s something marketers often think they’re doing but—so long as the dollar signs are still lurking there in the backs of their eyes—are not.
Jenny trusts her readers. She doesn’t respond to every comment on her blog or even every tweet directed at her. Holy cow. She’d never have time to go to the bathroom. But sometimes, you know, that’s a nice feeling as a commenter, that she’s not necessarily waiting to leap out of her chair and rush across the room to yank off my shoes and pull over a seat for me. Sometimes it’s more fun to just join the crowd and chat amongst ourselves. We have things to say, conversations to have with each other. It’s a gang rather than a greeting line. It’s like the time I drove with friends from San Luis Obispo to Santa Cruz in my old flannel pajamas because I knew that at the party we were going to that would be okay.
In fact, Jenny doesn’t even have that most-common of marketing commodities, a newsletter. Readers can’t make funny comments on a newsletter.
The truth is now that my business is doing well and I have a three-year backlog of posts to recycle, I don’t have to keep blogging. I could quit. I really could. I don’t inhale. . .
But every time someone comments, “I read you all the time, so I just want to say hi,” I realize I’ve had a friend out there I never knew about. And it makes my life deeper and richer.
Have I said it yet today? I love you guys.
Continued next week in Everything Else I Know about Social Media I Also Learned from the Bloggess
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