I sat down to write a boring post this AM, but first I swung by TechCrunch for a daily dose of overly sensationalized headlines. I generally don’t bother with videos but seeing “confessions of a media manipulator” was enough of a headline to at least read the abstract. The abstract was then enough to convince me to watch the video, the video was enough to make me go take a look at a few blog posts, and the blog was enough to make me go pre-order the book. In other words Ryan Holiday just made some portion of $12.99, from me, thanks to a 15 minute interview that he did on one of these manipulating blogs and the work he’s done building up his own blog over the last few years.
Wait, bloggers aren’t all pure and angelic?
To some extent we all already know that these bloggers and media outlets aren’t doing things out of the goodness of their own hearts. We know that people operate popular blogs in order to make money, and very few popular bloggers (who are making money) are doing so without ulterior motives. Personally, I’m very up front with the fact that I write this blog in order to indirectly and eventually benefit myself (and others). My narcissism has convinced me that the stream of conscience going through my head occasionally spits out something that other people might find valuable. I take these valuable bits, figure out how to write something that is targeted at a particular market, and then stick said valuable bit on twitter with an @mention directed at the thought leaders in that target market. (Note, this is not what’s going on here as Mr. Holiday isn’t exactly a twit-a-holic so the chances of a retweet are slim, and the power of his twitter network is currently somewhat limited.) My last post: What is a “Minimum Viable Product”? for example was retweeded by Eric Ries and that retweeting resulted in an extra 500 uniques that day. Five hundred extra uniques in a day isn’t anything to write home about but, as Jim Collins will tell you, a successful business is like a flywheel in need of constant small pushes. So far I’ve only been using twitter, but there are hundreds of other legitimate techniques out there for spreading your message. Five hundred visitors here, a thousand there, and pretty soon we’re talking about some real traffic. The expectation is that if I can articulate those valuable bits, promote my work, and can give enough value to the rest of the world then a few people might think I have a clue about that world and pay attention to what I have to say. That built up reputation can then be utilized to make a buck if I find certain other opportunities to give value to people through avenues like consulting or creating products. That’s basically been the game for the last dozen years when it comes to honest blogging.
But, the suggestions from Ryan’s interview about his book suggests that the most popular bloggers and media outlets, and in some cases the supposed thought leaders in their industry, are generally the ones who have been doing the most to deceive their readers. That is a little disturbing, but undoubtedly true. In addition these self-promotion initiatives are spilling over into real media outlets via services like “HARO” (Help a Reporter Out) where people with a desire to get their message out and reporters who need something to write about go to meet up and create the news. “Wait, what do you mean create the news?” I literally mean create the news. HARO has built a user base of journalists who work for various traditional media outlets and a user base of people willing to pay HARO to get their message out. The people wishing to be promoted (called sources) submit their story and journalists from news outlets such as Fox, ABC, and the Associated Press pick them up and run with them. This essentially makes it difficult to discern advertisements from actual news because the news is now essentially an advertisement.
Why write and read this book?
The answer given in the interview for why he wrote this book was that he’s gotten bored with being one of the media manipulators and figured he’s pull off the vail in the hopes of making the world a better place, etc. etc. I’m not going to try and infer what’s going through someone else’s head, but it just so happens that one of the books I’m reading right now is “Free Marketing: 101 Low and No-Cost Ways to Grow Your Business, Online and Off ” by Jim Cockrum. The chapter I’m in the middle of is talking about the benefits of putting free content online, and how much value you can get out of exposing your own secrets. The premise is that, whether it’s you or your competitors, sooner or later someone’s going to expose your secrets. The ancillary benefits of being the person doing the exposing far out weight the cost of them being exposed, and who would you rather have reaping those benefits… you or your competitors? Jim then goes on to give a few compelling case studies of this phenomenon. I’d guess that’s part of what’s going on here. My primary goal in reading this book is to survey the landscape and see what is being done by promoters like Ryan in order to fully understand when I am and am not being lied to. I want to recognize the tactics that are sleezy and be able to separate the wheat from the chaff in terms of influential online personalities. I want to survey these techniques and determine which ones I think are immoral, and which ones can be applied or tweaked to work in a way that is not subversive. I also think that this book will be big this year, so I want to know what I’m talking about when I come across the various articles that will undoubtedly pop up as a result. (check back in a few days/weeks because I’ll probably write a review)