7 Breathtakingly Simple Ways To Create Amazing Shareable Viral Video Content

July 26, 2017 Comments Off on 7 Breathtakingly Simple Ways To Create Amazing Shareable Viral Video Content

I’m a helpful sort. I like to pass on my knowledge and share it with others in the hope that it makes their life easier or happier. So here is my foolproof guide to creating viral video content.

  1. Either find or produce a video. It can be good, sure. It can be heartwarming or it can showcase the profound stupidity of some human beings, or it can be really kinda meh. It doesn’t really matter – you make or find something that works for your purposes.
  2. Write a title, ensuring that every word is capitalised. It doesn’t matter that society has been moving away from the overuse of capital letters for decades now (Estate Agents aside, as the Guardian style guide notes). You go right ahead and capitalise everything, like some latter day mediaeval monk who hand letters manuscripts with a proper quill if that makes your little heart happy.
  3. Ensure the title makes a promise it probably won’t keep. “You Won’t Believe What Happened When…” or “It Was Just Another Wedding Until…” or “You’ll Be Blown Away When You See…” You will believe it. It was just another wedding. You won’t be blown away. Trust me. That bridegroom isn’t much of a dancer.
  4. Break the most important rule of great writing. This might be point four, but it’s the most important one. That rule is simple: show, don’t tell. Or as Anton Chekhov wrote, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” But what did Chekhov know of likes and shares?! Pffft. You tell your little heart out, baby. Tell me what’s in the video. Tell me why it’s breathtaking. Tell me some background too, why dontcha? Tell me every damn thing you can think of to say about that video till I’ve scrolled down through your telling for at least three minutes trying to find the damn thing. And then maybe tell me some more just in case I don’t feel told.
  5. Include some screenshots of the video. These should look like they are the video, but not actually be the video link. You have to be careful with these – just enough for me to click, realise my mistake and move on, but not so many that I lose interest and click away. Quelle horreur! We can’t have people navigating away!
  6. Make sure the video is somewhere on the continuum between slightly disappointing and complete crud. Those are the ones that gain the most traction.
  7. Right after the video, have the most enormous Facebook and Twitter sharing buttons the world has ever seen, and have at least a paragraph exhorting people to share the love, pass it on, delight their friends and neighbours and Facebook stalkers. EVERYONE NEEDS TO SEE YOUR VIDEO! And it is other people’s job to make sure that happens – not yours. Use passive aggression, smarmy sales phrases, blatant manipulation – whatever you need to do to get that video going viral!

But please, whatever you do, don’t ever create something simple and elegant that speaks for itself, and doesn’t need any preamble whatsoever other than a short, sharp, intriguing headline. We can’t have that kind of thing circulating on the internet.

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Illusion delusion

October 26, 2016 § 6 Comments

It happened to me again the other day. I met someone – in real life – whom I’d interacted with on social media, and they said to me, “It’s amazing. You’re exactly the way you are on Twitter.”

On one hand I take that as a compliment, because I do strive to be authentic wherever I go. But on the other, it leaves me unsettled, because while what I share on social media might be my authentic voice, it’s not always honest.

There have been days when I have maintained long, punny tweet threads with people while I’m lying in my bed crying. There have been many days when I’ve posted a funny anecdote from my day on Facebook that has people chuckling away, and which presents a picture of me gently poking fun at myself, when really I’ve been self-flagellating all day.

It’s all my voice, it’s all me. It’s not a lie, and yet it’s not the truth.

And there’s something else we do too. We all know that people paint a much more rosy picture of their life than is actually the truth, or that they post dark, deliberately obscure status updates in order to attract attention and/or sympathy. We’ve seen both of those examples, and everything that falls on the continuum between them. Yet we still think we can scroll through someone’s Twitter timeline or Facebook wall and figure out what’s going on in their heads.

We have lost our collective minds.

I remember one of my journalism lecturers explaining to us that objectivity in journalism in a myth just because of the series of choices made between a story coming in on the wires, to its final iteration on the page. Each of those choices is informed by the worldview of the people doing the choosing; all of their unconscious biases come into play. That’s why journalists aim for balance, not objectivity.

We do the same thing on social media: choosing what to post, how to post it, what to answer, what to ignore, what to pretend we didn’t see because it would be too uncomfortable to respond…

For me the saddest part of this is that while we are more connected than ever to a plethora of other human beings on the planet, so much of it is superficial. So much is illusion – smoke and mirrors and perfectly docile rabbits appearing out of hats while the audience applauds.

I’ve made some amazing friends through social media; people I might never have met otherwise. I’ve reconnected with people I’ve lost contact with. It’s a daily part of my life that is equal parts anger and frustration, comfort and distraction.

It’s not all bad, of course – nothing is. But it is steeped in contradictions, and the hidden danger is that it’s very easy to be sucked into a filtered, perfectly cropped, nipped and tucked version of reality that is no more than socially sanctioned narcissism. You can find yourself in a place where maintaining the illusion becomes more important than the truth; where you curate your life instead of living it.

And when everyone else is doing the same thing, your really can’t know for sure where the truth stops and the lie begins.

Clickbait charity

June 9, 2014 § 7 Comments

I’ve tackled this subject in tweet form before, but I’ve decided it’s time for a little rant. Because yesterday on one of my social feeds I saw – yet again – a charity campaign that went something like this: “Share this link and we’ll donate money to charity every time you do.”

It incenses me, honestly, because it’s nothing but a cheap publicity stunt, served with a soupçon of emotional blackmail. And I’d rather donate my own money to the charity in question than click on your damned link or retweet your picture, or do whatever it is you want me to do to raise your profile publicly.

When I’ve grumbled on social media I’ve been met with, “But surely it’s okay, since good money was raised for charity? Surely the end justifies the means?”

Of course I don’t begrudge those charities their monies. But what if no-one clicked or retweeted or shared? Then you don’t donate to charity? You don’t give as much back to society from your healthy profits, just because we don’t do as we’re told and boost your brand’s footprint? That kind of charity is no charity at all.

Somehow corporate social investment, in various forms, has become a marketing tool. I drove past a school the other day with a huge sign painted on its wall, extolling the virtues of a company that had donated computers. But instead of being impressed with that company, the lavish self-promotion of that sign left me quite nauseated. It just seems as if businesses spend as much effort – and possibly money – publicising the wonderful thing they did, instead of just doing the wonderful thing because they genuinely care about whatever the cause happens to be.

We’re about to see a rash of these initiatives again in South Africa, because Mandela Day is rapidly approaching. Companies will be trying to out-charity each other as publicly as possible by endlessly, shamelessly calling for tweets and retweets and shares and clicks. They cost the sharers nothing, and that’s also problematic for me – isn’t the ultimate in slacktivism sharing something so that someone else will donate some money to charity?

Maybe I’m too idealistic, but I like to imagine a world where we – as individuals and large corporates – give to others for the sake of giving something back to society. For you, that might mean knitting a square or two towards a blanket, or donating your time to teach someone a skill. For a large corporate, that might mean upgrading a school’s resources or facilities, or financing rhino conservation efforts.

Whatever it is, stop freaking bragging about it. And stop using it as a marketing campaign. Because here’s the thing – if what you’re doing is worthwhile, if your ad is worth seeing, if your initiative is worth talking about, people will talk about it. They will share. They will tell their friends and post it on Facebook and retweet it, and tell their friends about the fantastic video they saw on YouTube.

But if you’re orchestrating it, and tagging it onto a charity drive, it just looks cheap. And tacky. So very, very tacky.

You can ring my bell

February 26, 2014 § 7 Comments

I committed a revolutionary act last night. It was my aunt’s birthday, so I picked up the phone and called her.

I didn’t text her first to see if she was available or not, I just called. And on a landline too. She was home, she wasn’t busy, so she answered, and was utterly delighted to hear from me. And given that she’s one of the warmest, sweetest people I know, I was delighted to hear her voice too.

It doesn’t sound like a revolutionary act, does it? And yet, talk to the digitally savvy about Mark Zuckerberg’s announcement that WhatsApp will soon carry voice calls as an option and they throw up their hands in dismay. “Does anyone even talk on the phone anymore?” they lament.

That saddens me. The irony in a world that is increasingly dominated by so-called social media, is that we are becoming less and less social. We don’t talk anymore – we text. We spend more time looking at our phones than we do other people’s eyes. (Mea culpa.) And we hardly ever pick up the phone and just call someone to see how they are, tell them we love them, or tell them some news, however trivial it may seem.

In an age when we have all of the communication tools possible available to us, it seems we communicate less and less.

I watch so-called ‘twars’ unfolding on Twitter all the time – they’re hard to avoid unless you only follow quote-spewing accounts. And it’s fascinating to me how often people are saying very similar things, yet they think they’re disagreeing with each other. Chances are, if they were having the same discussion over a meal, or opposite each other in someone’s living room, they’d be agreeing heartily .

Because you see, communication is more than just the words we say or write. And if we’re using Twitter as an example, even the most skilled writers battle to convey their thoughts in a 140-character limit. When we communicate in the written word alone, we are losing out on the auditory cues we pick up from people’s tone of voice, and the visual cues we read from their body language. This makes the ‘social’ part of social media a complete misnomer, and it’s what makes writing so difficult – you only have a third of the communication arsenal at your disposal.

I’ve been a journalist for 20-odd years (gulp) and I still don’t record my interviews. I take notes when I interview people, and to date – touch wood – I have been accused of misquoting somebody once. And that was the one time I had recorded the interview and transcribed it. I quoted the person verbatim, yet she disagreed vehemently with the quote I ascribed to her in the article. Why? Because I had quoted what she said, not what she meant. Body language and voice add layers of meaning that just don’t come through if you simply write down the words.

So this reliance on text to communicate worries me enormously. I fear we are losing our social skills completely. It’s all too easy to bully online – for adults and children. In an online forum, you don’t get the same feedback you’d get from someone if you said those insulting things directly to their face . So it’s easy to dismiss the hurt you might be causing. It’s the most cowardly form of bullying there is, I think.

Or I watch my teenage daughter and her friends with growing concern. They will text each other merrily for hours on end, but put them in a room together, and they don’t know how to have a conversation, or just to hang out together. They are 15 years old and they don’t know how to talk to each other. Within  15 minutes, they are taking photos of each other on their phones and sharing them on social media.

I worry that we are becoming, and raising, a generation of people with no social skills – and not in the ‘which fork to use at dinner’ sense – but in the sense of not having the ability to read another human being from their body language, tone of voice and general demeanour. Yes, we have inbuilt instincts, but a lot of that ability comes from practice. Life is a lot like a big poker game, and it’s important to be able to read the other players so you can decide which cards to play.

I don’t think I’ll ever stop being someone who loves to have a chat over the phone or over a cup of coffee. I don’t see conversation with other human beings – whether for work, play or duty – as an intrusion or a waste of time. I don’t need you to text before you call me, or apologise for disturbing me. Because if I was unable or unwilling to talk to you, I wouldn’t answer. It’s as simple as that.

And I have some wonderful ‘chats’ with people on BBM and SMS and WhatsApp and Facebook and Twitter. But I love to hear the sound of their voices too. There’s nothing I love more. And if I can’t see you in person, I’m happy to settle for hearing your voice. That’s two-thirds of the way to being with someone, which is always first prize.

So at the risk of sounding old-fashioned, if you have something to say, step away from the keyboard. Call me!

Come out and play

February 5, 2014 § 4 Comments

Yesterday I sat in my life coach’s office and bemoaned having every evening free.

I know, I know. And it’s a particularly odd thing to bemoan given that I spent the best part of last year consciously putting down things that brought me no joy. I was completely and utterly burnt out, and stepping away from all of those irksome things allowed me to move a little closer to remembering who I used to be before I was someone’s mother or wife, or daughter, or sister, or friend. Or employee.

I like to be busy. At school I always did two to three extra-murals a day (none of them being sport, however) and I continued that pattern into adulthood. Not having a schedule is an alarming thing for me. I like structure – it helps me to feel in control, and that helps me to cope with my anxiety. If there were an Olympics for worrying, I’d be at the top of podium for every event.

“But I’m wasting time!” I wailed. (I do a lot of wailing at Judy Klipin, who has the patience of a saint.) “I spend far too much time buggering around on Twitter and playing silly word games!”

And do you know what Judy said? She shrugged. And then she pointed out that my playing on Twitter had brought about valuable friendships, work, and artistic collaborations that I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams. And it had brought me joy and a lot of fun. And that all of those things were good. So perhaps it wasn’t such a waste of time after all.

And as usual, she was spot on.

That was a revelation in itself, but it also got me thinking. And I realised that it’s actually okay for adults to play. Perhaps that’s obvious to you, but I always feel like I should be doing something productive with every moment of my waking hours. And I’m not really sure why that is, or when I stopped playing.

But perhaps it’s time to give myself permission, and stop feeling guilty for having some fun. I’m allowed, right?

Confessions of a blogger

January 8, 2014 § 11 Comments

Okay, so here’s my sordid little secret: I started blogging because I’ve always wanted a newspaper or magazine column, and no-one’s ever offered me one.

So I started my own, here, partly as a bit of a brand-building exercise, but mostly because I wondered if I had what it took to produce something completely out of my head on a regular basis. And I wondered if anyone would read what I write in the vast ocean of bloggery that exists on the internet. Perhaps there was a good reason I’d never been offered a column.

It started off as a fairly haphazard thing, and then I realised that I wasn’t going to be able to test my competence unless I set a deadline. Which is why I decided that Wednesday would be blogging day, and that I would blog at least once a week. A daily blog seemed too much, a monthly blog too little. But I’ve worked on a weekly newspaper, and even though the deadlines come around pretty quickly, that felt manageable. (In reality, that basically gave me 24 hours in which to publish something each week – being a proper journalist, I seldom start writing anything until the very last minute!)

And perhaps this will sound like a humblebrag, but I am still astounded that just over 600 people follow this blog. Because I don’t offer prizes or give-aways or anything of that nature. These are just word-based snapshots of me.

I write about whatever takes my fancy on a particular Wednesday, whatever has been occupying my mind. There have been the odd rants, a couple of remembrances and other assorted ramblings. And somehow, people seem to enjoy them. It really does astonish me.

It’s been an enormously beneficial process for me, from a number of points of view. It’s my space, first and foremost. No-one tells me what to write, how long it needs to be, or what angle to take. That provides simultaneous freedom and sheer terror. The nature of my day job means that I can write almost anything as long as you give me a good brief, so not having one is a quite anxiety-inducing. It means I have to ask myself what I want to write about – and I don’t always know, as my crowdsourcing of topics (this one included) on Twitter will testify.

I think it has improved my writing. As people have responded to the way I write, it’s given me courage and self-confidence to push myself a little more, experiment with different kinds of posts, really craft the words I produce here, and not just churn out the transactional kind of writing I do on a daily basis.

It has built my personal brand a little – I have had a few offers of work as a direct result of the blog, so that’s been really positive.

I’ve also learned a few lessons along the way. Here they are; perhaps some might help you:

1. Be yourself. Find your own voice. Without wanting to sound all Oprah-ish, it’s about authenticity.

2. Rewrite. Give yourself time and distance from what you’re written if possible, and go back and edit it with a fresh eye. Get it as close to perfect as you are able. Don’t question, just trust me. You’ll thank me later.

3. If you are looking to build a following, and you’re an ordinary Joe or Jane like me, you need to blog regularly. It doesn’t have to be rigid, but if you can blog a couple of times a month at least, you’re more likely to build an audience.

4. Don’t blog too often. Remember that people are assailed by vast amounts of information every day. If blog posts are popping into their mailboxes every five minutes, they are going to delete them without a second glance.

5. Be ruthless about the content you produce – have you tackled the topic in a new way, or from a fresh angle? Ask yourself: “So what?” If you can’t answer that, you’re less likely to engage an audience. And be assured that if you get halfway through the post and think, “Meh!” then so will your readers. I find this the hardest part to get right. Today I started and discarded half a dozen posts because I couldn’t even interest myself in what I was writing. And sometimes I write something and think it’s wonderful, and hardly anyone reads it. Other times I dash something off in a hurry and it gets a big response.

6. Don’t get hung up on the numbers. If you obsess about how many people are reading your posts, you’ll drive yourself nuts.

7. Followers do not equal reads. I have 600-odd followers, but apart from one or two posts, a really good stat for me is about 150-200 reads. More often than not, I get around 50 or 60.

8. Keep on keeping on. It does take a fair amount of discipline to blog regularly – especially when it’s all you and no-one is paying you to do it. And often, life gets in the way. But there’s a reason you started blogging – unless that reason has changed, keep on keeping on.

9. Write for you. Perhaps I’m making an incorrect assumption, but people blog because they enjoy writing in some form. So enjoy it. And bugger what anyone else thinks.

10. Finally, and most importantly, if your blog allows comments, distinguish between honest engagement and trolling. And then repeat after me: don’t feed the trolls.

He said, she said

October 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

You probably don’t know this about me, but I’m supposed to have a Master’s degree in Sociolinguistics. I would, but I chucked it in, and I chucked in because I’m quite happy to do all the reading for a subject, but the data collection and writing up part of things is just deathly dull – especially when you have to write it all up according to some dusty old predetermined formula of research problems and research questions and blah, blah, blah…

Basically, I don’t have a Master’s degree in Sociolinguistics because I’m intrinsically lazy. But I am an armchair sociolinguist, and I love to analyse conversations that go on around me within that framework. And in case you’ve got this far and are thinking, “But what is it, for goodness’ sake?” it is, simply put, the study of the effects that society has on language .

One of the sub-categories of study is the differences in the way that men and women use language, often resulting in huge miscommunication. And in fact, the subject of my would-be thesis was gender-related, so I have a particular interest in this area. That’s why I was highly amused by a short Twitter conversation the other day, after I tweeted that I’d fixed the loose handle on the lid of my Le Creuset casserole with a butter knife, MacGyver-style.

A female follower replied that she’d had similar issues with hers, and two male followers joined in with solutions to the problem, and then discussed the merits of each other’s solutions for a couple of tweets. And I just giggled as it all unfolded, because it fitted so neatly into the way sociolinguists have observed the way we cope with sharing problems across the gender divide.

In broad sweeps – and I think many of us know this intuitively – when women have a problem, they tell their friends, and most of the time their friends nod, listen, agree they have a problem and offer tea and sympathy. They might offer a solution or two, but they start out by just being there and listening. Men, on the other hand, leap straight into the solutions. There’s a problem – it must be fixed. Fixing the problem is all. And it’s why I love this video, It’s Not About the Nail – it sums things up so well.

So here’s a fun bit of useful information (and I don’t recall the study that I read at university many years ago, but I know it exists). Did you know that men and women use agreement words and sounds like ‘Yes’ or ‘uh huh’ in conversation differently? Women use them to signal that they’re listening. Men, however, use them to signal that they agree. So, if you’re talking within your gender group, everyone understands each other. In a mixed gender situation, however, women get frustrated because men use their ‘yes’ less, and women therefore assume they’re not listening. Conversely, men get frustrated because they think women are just agreeing with everything they say and not thinking things through.

And I saw this demonstrated at a 60th birthday party last night, where my friend’s husband stood up and made a speech so full of details about her life that she was gobsmacked. “How did he know all of that stuff?” she asked me. “He must have been on my computer looking it all up.”

“Nope,” I said. “You’ve been married for 38 years now. He’s just been listening all this time.”

She shook her head. “It’s not possible,” she said. “Men never listen.”

So we quizzed him. And you know what? He had.

* If you want to read up more on this subject, Deborah Tannen is the guru in this area and writes very accessible books for the general public.

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