GSME #14 :: Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)

social-media-asides

It is time to get my writing aspirations back on track, and that meant today some serious thought over why I’m here and what’s happening long term with blogging as a future. This morning, a simple objective was publicly set:

There is a plan for this, that will play out across the week. I make no lie that it will involve incentives. This is a harsh reality in which we live, and I am well aware that to promote any ‘brand’ means getting dirty, providing sweeteners to help highlight what you do. I watched this play out across a weekend of ‘vintage’ bicycle festival: you pay to ride, and countless companies throw free stuff at you in the hope that you’ll like it enough to take the plunge and become a long term consumer. Our rider bags for Eroica were stuffed with alcohol, cosmetics and other gubbins. Free beer was offered during the ride, and when you completed. All of this has a purpose: buy into the lifestyle. That’s what I’m doing here, and if I’m up front about that, there’ll be no confusion.

The problem is, right now, that I’m not really terribly happy how Twitter’s platforms are being altered in order to make the company more relevant. We’ve spoken at length about the issues with analytics (that is still going on) but today my web-based platform of choice altered for good. On the back of last week’s ‘cleaner’ redesign (which owes a lot to the Android version of the UI) a fundamental change came into play that it took a while to work out. However, thanks to one of my most trusted followers, the answer was incredibly simple, once it became apparent some fundamentals have altered in Tweetdeck’s filtering functions.

At 5pm this evening, random tweets started appearing in my timeline from people I did not know. More importantly, these were accounts I did not follow, but in many cases had direct relevance to stuff I’d been discussing in my own timeline. The ultimate indignity was when Teresa May appeared, out of the blue, ON HER OWN ACCOUNT (that I’m positive nobody on my timeline would ever retweet). A sneaky switch to Hootsuite to check it wasn’t just a glitch showed promoted tweets are now appearing in their timelines, where this was not the case before. More significantly, it then became apparent what the issue was: these were cleverly picked posts being presented as ‘retweets.’ The thing is, unless I can see who’s retweeting them, or unless they are quoted, there is no way I can associate them with anyone I know on my feed. Once I worked out these were what Tweetdeck considered as a ‘retweet’, the filtering is a no-brainer.

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One click of a button and the noise effectively vanished. It is now apparent that Twitter’s not mucking about with trying to promote new followers: by presenting ‘retweets’ that match the same content I’m talking about? There’s a better than average chance I’ll follow someone. The key here is, of course, these messages are anything but random. They were carefully targeted, just as that alcohol and other products were at the weekend. The problem with me, sadly, is that I won’t ever play that game if you don’t ask first. Just giving me everything and hoping I’ll click won’t work. In that regard, I will probably need to make sure I start using my own personally curated lists going forward so I can avoid all the noise. Today was a salutatory lesson in what a company will be prepared to do in order to make their product marketable.

Personally, I want nothing to do with it.

GSME #13 :: Boulevard of Broken Dreams

social-media-asides

I’m not going to lie today, I’m pretty hacked off. When you start something as an experiment, one does so with the understanding that the data you’re using is going to be constant and untainted. In the last few weeks, it has been impossible to accurately gauge anything from Twitter’s analytics. If I was being paid to do this for a living I’d feel angry and upset, and I doubt that paying for the service would give me that much extra recourse either. I understand enough about how the Internet works to grasp that this ‘software’ has to be upgraded on the fly: you can’t realistically shut down the Twitter servers for twelve hours a week for maintenance. That means if summat’s broken, it stays that way until you can find the means to realistically fix it ‘live.’

The irony is, of course, that on the other page I’ve quite obviously tweeted, quite a lot, and that’s gathered the interest of a few people:

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Here’s the issue: according to the metrics, I didn’t tweet anything on June 1st yet garnered over 20k impressions. In fact, the first time Twitter acknowledges I did tweet anything is June 5th. What this has done is made my engagement rate not simply plummet but become a completely pointless statistic to gauge anything by:

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If I was wearing my tinfoil hat, I’d say May 19th was when all this ‘trouble’ began. I’d also love to know whether the means by which Twitter reports engagement has subtly altered too, because this whole decrease for me now seems off, especially as I know I’m getting bigger engagements overall using threaded content (that is, if I go off on a rant I makes sure each tweet is posted as a reply to the ‘parent’ message.) Needless to say, I can see organic impressions doing nothing but raise as the Summer goes on, because I will be doing my absolute damnedest not only to sell the Intenet of Words, but to use Social media as effectively and ruthlessly as I possibly can.

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However, in the interests of balance, I have to make a few observations with relation to the amount of crap I now see in my feed… and, to be fair, it has dropped dramatically. By ‘crap’ I mean random followers who’ll pick up a high performance tweet and effectively flag it with a bot account. As was mentioned last week, hashtagging content used to result in a flurry of robot follows (presumably by websites who charge you to link up with like minded content to extend your reach.) With the demise of CoPromote at about the same time as all these changes came about? Well, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Twitter might not just be taking steps to remove automated followers from its software. It could well be clamping down on those who use Twitter to make money for themselves.

With the potential value of the company long term, I really can’t say I blame them.

I look forward to seeing if a) anyone even bothers to respond now I’ve cc-d in Twitter’s Support account and b) on the amazingly slim chances they do, whether there’s any comment other than ‘we are aware of the issue and are working to resolve it for users as soon as possible.’ I understand how this works with gaming UI after many years of banging a head against the same wall.

I don’t really expect any change now.

GSME #11 :: Personal Jesus

social-media-asides

I should apologise for being a couple of days late with the Guide, but as history can show this as being Monday when it is in fact Wednesday, I doubt there’s too much of a fuss to be caused anyway. Health issues have inevitably derailed my progress, but they’re also a powerful means of driving social media. If you didn’t know already, drama generates interest.

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Let’s be honest here: I’d rather not have all this fuss and bother right before one of the most important periods of my life, but the Universe does like to mess with your head at the most inopportune of moments. Therefore, my views last week were exclusively driven by the fact I’ve become my own news story, like it or not. I could choose to read these figures in an number of ways, but at this point I’d just like to think that more people than normal care about my welfare, and that’s where we’ll stop. The better news, if we look at the graph on the right, is that I’m keeping close to exceeding a 2% engagement rate.

How am doing that is part of a structured change to my Tweeting habits.

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This Tweet has a picture, from my phone, of me waiting in the Hospital to see my surgeon on Monday night. If I’d have posted it *without* the picture it would have received less interest, because what the image does is make this less about having a conversation. The image, like it or not, draws you into my story. That’s why SnapChat and Instagram are as immensely useful and compulsive as they undoubtedly are as tools for generating traffic: the brain, in most cases, reacts more favourably to visual stimulus. This means that if I post something with a GIF attached, more people will read it, as is the case with a screenshot or a photograph. Once upon a time mobile download limits might restrict this as useful, but as WiFi becomes de rigeur and mobile devices become portable newspapers and magazines as well as gaming rigs… use more pictures.

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On the flip side, one well worded, concise and honest tweet is worth an entire blog post.

Picture + personal affirmation, in this case, results in a 9.3% engagement rate, if you didn’t believe me when I said that pictures sell. On the flip side however, being overly personal can turn people off. There’s the individual on my feed for instance who’s almost permanently ragging on their ex-partner for being horrible, and although there is a continued measure of sympathy for the situation, that person does go on Mute when it all gets too much. As is the case with life, balance is everything.

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Finally, you don’t need pictures, a personal dilemma or the end of the World to engage an audience. With the right words, a bit of thought and some planning, you can use Twitter to write blog posts, by ‘threading’ a series of tweets together with an appropriate picture at the top. This method of communication is proving increasingly useful for me, and I’ll be making the most of the format going forward. This week, there’s not much else to report really, and with an operation scheduled for the 16th, it will be a little quiet around these parts on Monday anyway.

Time to go practice what we’ve learnt and be ready to start again once all this drama is over.

GSME #7 :: The Old Songs

Last week, as those of you who follow my other blogs will know, was not exactly me on top mental and physical form. As a result, you would imagine that my experiment might suffer. Instead, I’m beginning to see some genuine return from the good foundations being laid.

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The bars may be down, but in reality engagements are up, coming close to 25k a day. Slowly but surely that rate is staying above a certain threshold too. It is a combination of curation, sharing and an increased use of the visual via artist sharing and Instagram that has helped, but also understanding that if you pitch the right things at the correct audience, amazing things will happen.

The bald guy top left in the picture set here is my mate, and he opened the shop named after his hobby at the weekend. His son is in my daughter’s year at school, and we had many conversations on the School playground before Secondary education sent our children their separate ways. I know he’s given up his old job to make Retro Gaming his full-time profession, and as a result deserves as much help as I can give him, so on Saturday I took some pictures on the phone and sent this out onto the Internet, making sure it hit a few of the right people along the way. This is now my third best performing tweet of the last 28 days, and is living proof that a) pictures sell posts and b) they gain more views if you ensure the right people see them.

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I screenied this last night, yet this morning people are still picking this up and bouncing it around the Retro Gaming community. I get nothing at all out of this either, which is the bigger point to make: I have only a passing interest in Retro but I’m more concerned in getting @TheRetroHunter the exposure I can offer, being at the intersection of where past and present overlap. As of time of writing, this has topped 6k views and at a point on Sunday was exceeding an almost mythical 20% engagement. Having one in five of your audience being interest is truly the stuff of legends, people. If you know the right people to talk to and the correct places to target? Twitter really is an incredible tool for advertising.

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The key here, of course, is that nobody paid for anything. It is proof, if it were needed, that the best advertising is word of mouth and altruism. Having said that, paying for the right things also does have benefit. Behold my boost on CoPromote from last week, which I managed to generate without any purchased ‘reach’:

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Up for 3 days, it bounced around for a while and got me 130k views but, yet again, the physical return for my effort appears to have been negligible in actual interest. This week, therefore, it is time to look at what content I can provide that will retain more of an audience, including a greater use of Twitter Cards in my ‘advertising’. This is one part of the free advertising toolbox I’m criminally underusing, and as a result we’ll be all over the process until I see you again. For now, if you like a retro game and wanna help my mate out, go visit his Facebook page 😀

GSME #6 :: Fade To Grey

As is sometimes the case in Experiments, this week hasn’t exactly gone as I’d planned. However, before we begin, let’s look at the old Engagement scoreboard:

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There’s a few things to mention, most notable of which is that in the last seven days I didn’t use CoPromote at all and still the numbers are up. That will change this week, as I’ve almost built up 100k ‘credit’ to use on something worthwhile, but it is as much about writing a decent post to hook people in to reading long-term as it is just churning out rubbish, which seems to be how some people view Twitter to begin with. The plan going forward had been to boost myself using Twitter’s own range of ‘advertising’ tools and last night I cleared a block of space and time to do just this.

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The range of options is pretty decent: I can, it appears, pay money to get followers (recommended for accounts with an audience of under 1000, I’m told) plus be charged in any myriad number of ways. This was the first thing that put me off: what I could manage for the cash I have available was woeful at best. Obviously the more you pay, the better your chances of reaching people, though it would be unfair to say that’s the only way this works, because it isn’t. An awful lot of Twitter’s advertising however expects you to not only specifically identify and target an audience, but understand how that works to begin with, and I can see this putting off huge numbers of potential smaller users.

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The fact remains, that if paying a tenner A DAY for what might only be seven clicks is not, it must be said, the optimal use of my cash. In fact, if I’m honest, CoPromote’s reach function did more than that, and I pay $19.99 a MONTH. The only difference is what is promised in terms of Impressions, and I can make that happen myself via persistence and little grey cells. Maybe this is part of the reason why Twitter as a company fails to make money but continues to win in terms of being the most organic and accessible of mediums. Perhaps if they tweaked their selling model for smaller sellers, there might be an upswing in interest.

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It doesn’t take a genius to understand how the basic principles operate, but the work involved for me in identifying a niche audience (which is effectively what I am, like it or not) is not currently worth the return. If I were a Warcraft streamer, however, this could have some genuine merit, or indeed if I was trying to sell my product in a larger market. In that regard, and because I know a number of people have been waiting to see what I think of this, I’d say it may well be worth the effort if you have the cash to back it up. It will also help if your market is well known, and can be easily targetted using specific keywords. I have so many applicable keywords right now for what I do, and as I currently refuse to refine those terms? This is a service I can happily leave well alone.

In fact, you’ll probably get far more out of this completely free guide to optimising your account than is ever going to result from a small business using Twitter ads. As is also the case with Facebook, these companies seem to only be interested in those prepared to spend big in able to make their point, and that effectively prices me completely out of the marketplace. More importantly, I get to help out a friend by granting her post a few extra views, which I’d far rather do than chuck money at a huge company that doesn’t seem that interested in my business to begin with.

Sometimes, your answer means not taking the obvious route.

GSME #1 :: Learning to Fly

Last week, I started a journey to see how good (or otherwise) I could get at ‘doing’ Social media during my normal online life. To avoid an Oscar-style SNAFU I’ve already prepared my pictures beforehand on this one, so let’s see how I managed with my first objective from last week, could I sustain 20k engagements a day without really trying too hard?

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This number is totally doable as a starting point. I only scored 17k yesterday because I was hungover and didn’t really push anything particularly hard, but as you can see in the week it isn’t difficult to hit 40k for me when there’s summat going on that gets my feed all engaged to begin with. In Thursday’s case it was a bit of a Warcraft-related moment, and that taught me some important lessons on how the right combination of factors can really get your numbers soaring. However, to understand what makes the best combination of factors in engaging a reader… well, first you need to grasp exactly how these numbers are calculated.

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I’ve piced one of my most popular tweets this month to use as an example: The first bit (5832) in this case is simple enough:

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I know why its popular, I’m giving away free stuff. However, there is a world of difference between people just looking at your work and interacting with it, and that’s where the 385 comes in:

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That number is key: ideally you can have less impressions and more engagements and the tweet is more successful, at least in terms of delivering the right message to the correct people. That’s the percentage number, by the way:

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Oh and in case you don’t think that’s right, I even did the maths for you to prove the point:

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Shift your decimal point 2 spaces and BOOM there you go. This tweet may have had a squillion people look at it, but it fails in terms of making people sit up and listen (though for the record, 6% is massively good, see below.) To give you a better idea of exactly what has happened to any particular Tweet, Twitter also allows you to see the breakdowns, as follows:

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The truth is that out of nearly 6000 people seeing this one tweet I’ve managed 71 retweets, as of Sunday afternoon when I did this research. That’s neither simple or easy, it must be said. That’s also pretty insignificant when placed alongside accounts with six figure followers. Hey, nobody said this was going to be straightforward, and if your ‘dream’ of success is thousands of people favourite-ing your every word? Well, if truth be told you don’t need the numbers for success. What could be argued matters more is the ability to engage an audience, not have them simply go ‘yeah great’ and not read a word you wrote.

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Then we enter the realms of quantifying success. If you just want to sell yourself regardless, then all you want is clicks, right? Well, no, because as I said that 6% engagement rate means I’m targeting my stuff at pretty much an ideal audience. As an example, take a look at how Hootsuite got their engagement sorted once the analytical tools came out.

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Even going up into the tens of thousands of clicks, this only manages a 5.3% engagement rate. What this says (and makes me now sit and think) is that it isn’t just what you offer to an individual in terms of marketing that matters. Being self-effacing obviously has merit, and accepting that maybe it isn’t just about being the best or the cleverest either. Honesty sells, as does genuine emotion: humour, sadness and most importantly of all in the current climate, empathy. If you have enough balls to roast people I suspect that too will work well on engagement rates, but that takes bigger kahunas than I doubt I’d ever be able to get my hands on.

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It also proves that my love for the GIF has a lot to do with my current social media success, quite away from the giveaways. In fact I’ve garnered more people with my sense of humour and a well placed loop of imagery than has ever really come from the free stuff, and that’s an important lesson to learn going forward. This week’s homework therefore is looking at ways to raise my engagement rate without having to reach for the easy answer. There’s more than one way to sell yourself, after all, and knowing that I don’t need massive numbers just more interest?

That’s an interesting subject to ponder going forward.

All Together Now

I was thinking yesterday about how important Twitter has become to me as a means of communication, but not simply in real time. Any social media ‘expert’ will tell you that the key to using the platform correctly is engagement, and to do so effectively is not simply combining hashtags or imagery. More often than not it can start with the right conversation, especially in a period where the platform’s being used to communicate ideas and feeling in a manner that’s not happened before. Except for me, this has been the means that I’ve generated content for a couple of years, based on the understanding that the people I engage with are the most fertile source of ideas I’m ever likely to find.

This was again apparent yesterday when a conversation over Warcraft hardcore raiding with Sar evolved into what will be my article this week for MMO Games. All the building blocks were already in my head, but without this particular conversation taking place, I’d have lacked the leap in creativity that stuck everything together, and this as a writer is absolutely crucial as a means of fuelling the imagination. Of course, if this were fiction I was writing I’d probably want to do the opposite, and having the opportunity to ‘write’ in public could be full of potential pitfalls. I learnt this quite early on in my writing career from a man who did a brilliant job of balancing communication with a rabid fanbase whilst at the same time never compromising the integrity of his idea.

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This is J. Michael Straczynski (who I’ve been lucky enough to meet) the writer responsible for Babylon 5, which for five years was the subject of a faily concentrated interest and obsession. Back then, JMS walked a fairly precarious tightrope, because if anyone could be seen publicly to suggest a story idea in a forum he (and I) read and that in any way, shape or form appeared in what he was producing? The consequences were too terrible to speak of. Of course, plagiarism is now a constant companion for many people, and with everybody nicking everybody else’s characters (often with a cheeky nod) without even a second thought, the world is a vastly different place. The fact remains however, you credit where due, whenever possible, and you absolutely remember the helpful people on your journey. Without this inspiration on a daily basis, I’d be pretty much nowhere, and it would be foolish not to acknowledge the significance of process going forward.

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The temptation for many of us is to act in a ‘pack’ when a contentious issue appears: some might consider themselves as kangaroos as inspiration, but for others they’ll see only sheep. Social media has a habit of highlighting the dumb and stupid in all things because, like it or not, it is rare people take to the platform to praise. You only have to look at the fight between JK Rowling and Piers Morgan taking place at present to grasp that if you want to be genuinely pleasant to somebody, it’s a hell of a lot harder than simply opening both barrels and taking them down in flames. I will admit I genuinely dread the reactions of certain people I follow now because I know that instead of trying to find the good in anybody, it’ll be a pile of flame-filled abuse that they’ll respond with, because it’s just easier and less stressful to be negative if that’s all you get from engagement. I refuse to let these people get to me, and more importantly I won’t unfollow them, because there needs to be a reminder that your opinion is not the only one that matters. In fact, the overly emotional are as much of a frustration as those who don’t give a fuck.

Somewhere in the middle is where I’d now like to live.

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Elysium’s a hard place to quantify in the virtual world. As the demands of social media make more and more people question their place within it, and whether they want to even participate in the process, there are some hard lessons to consider. Those of us who wish for more empathy will, undoubtedly find themselves in situations where it becomes apparent that it is our own indignation that’s the real issue. You can only blame others to a point: you place unrealistic barriers to entry or restrictions on your own life that can only be extended so far. It is understandable that a notion of control is craved, but eventually there’s going to come a point where the choice is simple: either agree with what you’re given or be quiet. Sure, we’d all love infinite choice, but in this world of 1’s and 0’s you can only do what the programming languages allow. That means, somewhere along the line, you will have to compromise.

For me this is picking one platform to concentrate on: not at the expense of others, but because ultimately I’m only capable of mastering one thing at a time. It means I’ll chase the robots away whenever possible, will defend the right for people to appear as unfeeling bastards because that’s their decision on their feed and grasp that in the modern world, if I want the best I can get, that does NOT mean blocking out everything I don’t agree with. It’s simple to be that person when you think your point of view is all that matters, and I know people on both sides of debates who are just as pig-headed and intractable as each other. The ultimate aim, at least for me, is to find a path that can be walked by everybody, not simply those who agree with my viewpoints. The way to do that isn’t to use Twitter as a soapbox but a meeting place, where the most unexpected of people might grant the salvation you so dearly seek.

As a writer, everybody has something to say I should listen to, at least once.