“Everybody is striving after social proof—from a close friend’s adulation to online likes and upvotes. The less you need positive feedback on your ideas, the more original design regions you can explore, and the more creative and, in the long term, useful to society you will be. But it could be a very long time before people will love you (or even pay you) for it. The more original your ideas, the less your bosses and peers will understand them, and people fear or at best ignore what they do not understand. But for me, making progress on the ideas was very rewarding in itself at the time, even though they would have made the worst party conversation topics ever. Eventually, decades after, they generated more social accolades than I now know what to do with.”

- Nick Szabo | Excerpt from Tribe of Mentors


Know the Game

Social media platforms leverage algorithmic Jedi Mind tricks to keep us plugged in and posting, then turn our attention into advertising dollars.

Google, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, Twitter, and the like gather as much information on their users as legally possible, then allow external entities to buy ads on their platforms, targeted to the demographic most likely to buy the advertised product.

We, the users and our endless hours spent captively scrolling are actually the product in this relationship. Our attention is sold to the companies that advertise on these platforms. These social platforms are optimized for the companies buying ads, their true customers.

Social media companies are actively tweaking their presentation algorithms to keep us scrolling and engaged for as long as possible so more ads can be pushed our way.

The key is to leverage social media as a tool and be mindful to prevent it from doing the same to us.


Leverage Tools

Social media can be used to build community, find an audience, drive traffic, generate revenue, teach others, contact friends, and meet like minded people. Given the utility of this tool, it would be wasteful not to leverage it.

We have established relationships with many companies and people that wouldn’t have been possible without the help of social platforms. Biolite, weBoost, Onnit, Subaru, Cubic Mini Wood Stoves, Youtube, Waterlily, Merrel and more.

We leveraged our social clout (primarily Elsa’s) to illustrate the value in working with us. Sending a free product to us is a cheaper and more effective way for these companies to reach a relevant audience.


Strategize

The first company we successfully established a relationship was Biolite. I had been geeking on their products since their initial kickstarter campaign. When we first started Scamp life, I knew that their stove, with the capability to turn wood into cooking fuel and usable, electric power, would be perfect for us. 

We made the strategic decision to buy the stove in hopes of getting Biolite’s attention with the content we would create around it. Even if we had never received a response from them, we still had our great little stove, so there was no downside. 

We wrote up a script and made a video on our new Biolite stove. Once the video had some views, we sent an email to Biolite about it, linking to the Youtube video we had made. They loved the video and excitedly invited us to be ambassadors for their products.

We have tried sending cold emails to companies, filled with our numbers and potential ideas, but we’ve found it far more effective to make the company a free, promotional video. This way we’re giving the company a gift to get their attention, prove our creative and technical capabilities, and establish a deeper relationship from there.

We used the same strategy with Onnit, a company selling brain, body and health supplements, in our Own the Day series, and it worked. Now that we have a catalogue of these videos established, we can show them to other companies like Cubic Mini and weboost to gain their trust.


Build an Audience

Check out 1000 True Fans, its a quick essay by Kevin Kelly (founder of Wired) on the idea that 1000 True Fans is all you need to have a sustainable business around your influence. 

My content strategy revolves around this idea. My goal is to produce things that are interesting and useful to me, and share them with other people. This strategy keeps me from burning out. If I were writing things just to get a like or reaction, I would get bored, lose inspiration and you would likely see through my farce.

“I started out basically imagining I was writing for a stadium full of replicas of myself—which made things easy because I already knew exactly what topics interested them, what writing style they liked, what their sense of humor was, etc”

- Tim Urban (WaitbutWhy) excerpt from Tribe of Mentors.

My strategy is to build a slow growing, engaged and intimate audience that truly digs the things I share.

I try to follow the logic of Ryan Holiday’s book “Perennial Seller”, writing and working on things that will stand the test of time. 

The inverse can also be useful though, when implemented intentionally. There is utility in content that lends itself to virility. Things like top ten lists, product reviews and clickbait titles can be utilized to pull fresh eyes. But, know that this fresh audience will likely have no idea who you are, and will be more outspokenly critical until they get to know you.

We see an obvious spike in negative comments on Elsa’s Youtube channel after one of her videos goes viral.


Slow vs Superfluous

Many people use tools like Instagress to artificially grow their following. These programs automatically like posts and follow accounts, triggering the person on the other end to reciprocatively follow back. The program then goes through and unfollows the accounts to keep the “Following” count low, hiding the tool’s use. 

Tools like this can grow follower count quickly, but lead to a superfluous audience and lower interaction.

Some people favor this rapid growth because follower counts can be used to manipulate others into thinking they have more influence than they really do. More power to them, but I prefer a slower, long term approach.


Digital Validation

Observe “likes” and other social signals objectively and learn from them. Likes and interaction can get more eyes on content, but it’s unhealthy to judge ourselves based on like score. Often times, the important, true and useful posts will not garner the attention that clickbait will.

Zoom out and keep the big picture in mind, don’t trip on like and follower counts. Stay true to yourself, share interesting things and your audience will grow naturally.

Measure success individually. Don’t compare yourself to others, learn from them, but don’t measure yourself against them. As Theodore Rosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy”.

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