Guest Post: How Twitter is Blanding Branding

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I am Pleased to present the following guest post by Kian Kaul, author of Stockholm on Branding and Marketing. Take it away, Kian:

Kian Kaul on “How Twitter is Blanding Branding”

These days every writer is their own brand, we’re constantly told in advice columns on mid-ranking marketing blogs and rushed non-fic titles (many of which are only available in the Kindle or Nook store), but what does it mean to be a brand?

A brand is a name or title which represents a product, through an experience, communicated by a primary feeling.  And that experience can change, sometimes drastically, depending on the needs of the market.

Coke is positivity, excitement and energy — but not too much energy, otherwise it would be Rockstar.  Pepsi is all those things but in a blue can and with celebrity stunt casting.  It’s also diabetes and tooth decay in excess, but that wasn’t included on the creative brief.  Ralph Lauren was originally clothing intended for upper-middle class white people until “urban” black influencers assimilated the preppy style into their own cultural positioning.  But these are the major brands, the celebrity brands.

When you’re a celebrity brand people just want to feel like they know you.  When you’re not a celebrity brand you have to offer something.  Anything.  Don’t have anything?  How about an intellectually unchallenging motivational message that may or may not have anything to do with the thing you’re selling?

If you’re a writer reading this, you’re likely not a celebrity or a major brand.  You’re the fifteenth bottle of detergent from the left and you’re actively tweeting how “fresh” and “clean” your formula will make one’s clothes, but then again, so are all the rest.  So, how do you stand out?  Do you refine your message?  Do you clearly define yourself and your approach so maybe your brand actually means something and carries some sort of significance?

Yeah, you could do all that, or just yell your marketing message more often into the greater white-noise feedback wall of Twitter, hoping that this most recent, “hay guise buy my thing thansk!” will be the one that does it.

One of the first rules of sales and advertising is to provide value.  Not actual value, naturally, but perceived value.

Coke doesn’t actually make anyone younger, or cooler, or dance spontaneously in suspiciously clean urban apartment hallways, but on the other hand it’s got caffeine and sugar and you hate Starbucks just because.  McDonald’s won’t facilitate intimacy in your immediate family or transform your turgid and disappointing Friday night out with your co-workers into a series of Kodak (remember them?) worthy-memories for your Facebook wall, but the bleached-teeth actors on the commercial (who probably gagged themselves in their honey-wagon bathroom immediately after shooting) seemed to be having a great time under their beauty lighting.

Even Pabst Blue Ribbon, long remembered only as a violent and junior college giggle-inducing punchline from the film “Blue Velvet”, has achieved a new crowd-sourced cool as the hipster beer of choice.  A sort of anti-brand, for anti-people, who wear anti-clothing and grow ironic mustaches on their anti-faces.  Suck it, Budweiser and your corporo-fascist, tasteless and not-inexpensive-enough beer.

All of the brands above have to offer, or at least pretend to offer, some sort of value beyond endless reminders that their “thing” is now on sale.

For a writer trying to build their brand on Twitter, amassing followers without understanding what your brand is yet only confounds the problem, as the people most likely to immediately follow back are up to the same tricks, not interested in meaningful interactions or providing any value, just racking numbers up with other salespeople who are also constantly posting their own anonymous ads, to each other.  Ad nauseam.

This may be how modern advertising works, but it’s not good advertising by any means.

The main character in my novel “Stockholm” (see, that’s subtle product placement, my friends) works, for a while anyway, in advertising where he finds modest success recycling ideas that aren’t his own for lack of any inspiration beyond survival.  Until, that is, he meets a model named Natasha that he’d never heard of but who completely derails his life in one fateful production day.  Suddenly he’s inspired simply to work with her, the subject matter itself not even important enough to be secondary.  His creative bankruptcy ends up distinguishing himself in the way he pulls off the same old ideas.

But for that to work for you and me there has to be some spark of desire beyond mere selling.  Something that elicits a feeling through the experience. Something other than saying, “my thing k thanx BUY”.  The chemical reaction between Anakin and Natasha becomes ‘the difference that makes the difference’ (See NLP), but if you want to know how he pulls this off… (do I even have to say it?)

Once we understand that our primary psychological motivations are social – it’s a sense of social connection and belonging that not only got us on Twitter to fling our stuff, but made us want to make the stuff we’re flinging in the first place. (Unless you’re a different sort of primate acting on the defensive.) You make a thing – you show your thing to the world (Purposefully, not like the Anthony Weiner disaster, hopefully, but imagine the PR!) – you get accepted into a social group with other people who make things.  You learn from them, take their cues and adapt in order to belong and therefore survive.  It’s an unnecessary natural selection that weakens the individual, without strengthening the collective.

Without a clear sense of self and personality, the undulating mass absorbs and gentrifies you.  You read the free marketing blog posts posted in your news feed that are also read and followed by all the other writers, who also assimilate the same ten fearful commandments into their own approach and soon everyone with something special to sell is just another indistinguishable, smiling bottle of brightly-colored stuff demanding the casual shopper to “Follow Me On Twitter!”
You can follow me on Twitter – @anakincarver
(Heh heh heh…)
For more observational and cultural satire, read “Stockholm”, my debut novel and the unlikely story of a man who becomes one of the most influential figures in media, never known.
Website
http://stockholmbook.com
Amazon
http://www.amazon.com/Stockholm-Kian-Kaul/dp/146094965X/

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Guest Post: Dale Cozort

Hi. I’m Dale Cozort, guest blogger.

I recently had a science fiction novel called Exchange published by Stairway Press, a small independent publisher. I previously self-published a book of Alternate History scenarios called American Indian Victories. I’m going to talk about how I’ve incorporated open source and free writing tools into my writing and promotion process, and then talk a little about the resulting book.

How did I use open source and free writing tools to write and promote those books? First, I do most of my plotting in Ywriter, which is free, though apparently not open source. I like the structure of YWriter, and use it to develop characters and locations as well as the plots themselves. I do most of my writing these days using Write or Die(see the links section for the online version). I set it for twenty minute sessions and try to write 450 words in those twenty minutes. Most times I don’t quite make it, but I come close. I like writing in a series of sprints because it keeps my inner editor in check while I write. It works well for me. I’ve written over 80,000 words for each of the last three NaNoWriMo months.

I do have a website at www.DaleCozort.com. It’s partly for promotion and partly for my alternate history essays. I started out using NVU as my HTML editor, then switched to Kompozer. Both are open source, as is Filezilla, my FTP program. I use Scribus, an open source desktop publishing program, to create newsletters for promotion, and use Gimp and sometime Pinta for the graphics work. Once in great while I even find a use for TuxPaint, the open source kids’ painting program. A free e-book program called Calibre helped me help the publisher debug a couple of glitches in the e-book version of Exchange.

I’m sure I’m missing some open source tools I use from time-to-time, but those are the big ones. I could do all of those jobs with proprietary tools, but the cost of keeping them all current would be prohibitive. I hate to admit it here, but while I do sometimes use OpenOffice, I usually use Microsoft Word because my work standardized on it and I need to be able to support people using it.

So what about the resulting book? What is Exchange about? It’s set in the near future. Our reality is experiencing a series of Exchanges. Basically, with three hours warning a town-sized chunk of our reality switches places with a same-sized chunk of a reality with no humans but a lot of fierce animals. The two chunks stay in the wrong reality for a week or two, then snap back where they belong. If you wander off the Exchanged chunk and stay there, you’re stuck in the other dimension.

It’s an interesting concept because you end up with an empty world that should be infinitely exploitable, but is surprisingly hard to exploit. You can’t get enough resources into an Exchange zone in three hours to make a viable colony in the other reality, and international agreements prohibit governments from sending people across on the piece of the other reality that has been our reality for a week or two. The agreements are backed up by international observers and the fact that Exchanges can be detected all over the world, so other countries know when and where one is going on.

A big concern: diseases and vermin spreading from the alternate reality to ours. The military and National Guard send teams to protect anyone they can’t evacuate and keep animals from the other reality from getting to our. They also send autonomous solar powered drones into the other reality so they can radio back information if they get within radio range of another Exchange.

That’s just the background. The story itself pits computer guru Sharon Mack against some very high odds as she tries to get her kidnapped daughter back from a group of crazies who want to settle in the other reality with no preparation. That means she goes up against fierce predators, escaped convicts, a marauding street gang and a cult, not to mention an ex-husband. They say to make your characters struggle, and I certainly do that.

If you have any questions about open source or writing or Exchange feel free to ask. I’ll check back every once in a while and would be happy to answer any questions you might have.

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Google+ as Blogging Platform for Writers From “The Outlaw King” Author S.A. Hunt


Amazon Affiliate Link to S.A. Hunt's Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree

Available on Amazon

Author S.A. Hunt shares with us a few thoughts on Using Google+ as a blogging platform. Moderator of bothLibrary of Shadows On Reddit and Dark Fantasy Writers Workshop on G+, he seems to be ahead of the curve in finding new and unique ways to share his work, and I was interested in his thoughts on using G+ as an alternative to traditional blogging.

CATS AND PLACENTAS by S.A.Hunt

I don’t know why I keep doing it. Like my mother always warned me, it’s making me go blind.

Maybe I’m trying to give something back to the writing community, but every time I set myself up in another moderation role, I have to wonder: have I bitten off more than I can chew? What am I thinking? I should be writing, not trying to quote-unquote “run shit”. I have one novel out and another on the way. I don’t even know what I’m talking about anyway. But that’s just the Doubt Demon talking, isn’t it?

I keep telling people I don’t have time for this, don’t have time for that. That’s malarkey. I have plenty of time, it’s just the things they want me to do don’t involve writing, and to answer the Basement Jaxx, that’s where my head’s at.

Communities, subreddits, intermittently barking semi-authoritative writing-related madness at my friends like some kind of retired drill sergeant sitting on the front porch. I don’t have time to come to your birthday party! I don’t have time to help you move house! I’m got things to do. And they involve killing imaginary people.

By the way, this blog post is going to get pretty crazy, so if you have a weak stomach, consider this your official warning.

Library Of Shadows

The real answer is not because of my overwhelming need to push people around, I do that plenty on the swings down at the park, thank you, and no, I don’t have somewhere else to be, Officer Fussypants. It’s because I like to be up to my eyeballs in the craftmanship of writing.

Between moderating at the Dark-Fantasy Writers Workshop community on Google+, the 3,000+ subscriber Library of Shadows suspense magazine at Reddit, and interacting with thousands of writers on the bustling Google+ (like the indomitable Ksenia Anske and rock-god John Ward), I get to basically swim in words all day. You’re pushing people on the swings to help them get higher. It’s a honing mechanism. You hone each other. You jump in and come out sharper.

The Library of Shadows was initially created a couple of years ago — before Google+ really took off — as a way to siphon off the obviously fictional NoSleep stories that were getting everybody’s hackles up. Third-person anecdotes, end-of-the-world epics, nail-biters in which the protagonist dies: these tales were coming from very talented people, but they didn’t quite fit in at a forum where everything is true, even if it isn’t and killing off the hero stirs outrage like “if the guy is dead, how did he post this?” and “if the world was taken over by zombies, why don’t I see them when I look outside?”

So I made a subreddit and gave it the opposite stipulation: everything here is fiction. This is where you can go apeshit and really put your characters through the wringer. And while it hasn’t attracted quite the same following as NoSleep, it still has its die-hards, and occasionally I hear of budding novelists being “tactically directed” to the Library to offload their unbelievable fiction.

And that’s good. That’s how we get some of the best talent.

Now the Library has evolved into a continually rotating showcase of some of the best unfettered writing thatReddit has to offer. Unlike subreddits geared toward workshopping, being a moderator at the Library is to be a gatekeeper of quality.

If it’s a link without an excerpt (so we can see what we’re getting into), if it’s less than two pages’ worth of text (it’s a showcase, not a workshop), it goes back into the microwave to heat up the middle. Visitors to the Library are there to read for enjoyment, and while critique is often solicited and sometimes earned, it’s not the primary purpose.

Stillborn

People don’t tell you this, but being a person in charge of something like that is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, emotionally speaking. It gives you a sudden and sharp appreciation for what editors and traditional publishing houses commit to on a daily basis. You don’t see it coming. Having to put the kibosh on earnestly submitted bad prose eats at the edges of your soul like few other things.

It’s like jamming a hat down on a man’s head so tight the thoughts can’t get out, but sometimes you have to bear down and be mean. Sometimes those thoughts come squirming out half-formed and gnarly like some stillborn bovine, flopping headfirst onto the pavement greased in the black, stringy soup of confined rot. A pale, glistening bag of legs covered in what looks like Karo syrup.

That’s a horrendous mental image, isn’t it?

Now you know there are those whose job it is to plant their hands firmly on the end of that limp-limbed dead thing and heave it back into the womb, its lifeless eyes rolling, its purple tongue hanging out. You think you hate rejection letters, but imagine putting your lips against those damp, hoary folds and whispering, your white-vapor breath curling in the barn’s February silence, “I’m so sorry I had to push you back in. Better luck next time.”

Sometimes the corpse is so pretty we realize it deserves a chance to fret its stuff upon the stage, so we break out the makeup kit and defibrillator. Sometimes it pops right out sweet and dry, frolicking and playful, covered in fresh brown fur that doesn’t need more than an ounce of help.

We don’t love them any more than the dead ones, but they fetch a better price at the cattle auction. Sooollld! To the lady in the red jacket. Soooollld! To the businessman on the bus.

All things in Moderation

Moderating a fiction workshop is infinitely easier; it mainly centers around maintaining the firehose of self-promotion and making sure your fringe contributors don’t muck up the works with irrelevance and nonsense like videos of themselves singing and posts in a language nobody else can understand.

If it’s low-volume enough you feel the impetus to fill it up with your own insights to get things moving again. Which, if you’re like me, turns out to be that dead calf’s placenta, a veiny and rancid blob of advice. And like placenta, I don’t expect anyone to enjoy it, but there it is, stinking up the place, ready for clinical dissection.

I didn’t think that analogy would be as apt as it turned out to be. I just wanted to gross you out again.

Google+ as Blogging Platform for Writers

I keep hearing the clarion call from other writers: keep a blog! Fill it with stuff! What stuff? Insight? Who wants my blobs? I don’t have that many blobs. Blob blog. Bob Loblaw’s Law Blog. Say that three times fast.

I’m still in a learning stage myself, and most of my insights are calf-davers themselves. I’m not sure I could fill up a blob with my insight (I totally meant to say “blog”, but you see what came out), so what I do is toss it out onto the stoop of Google+ and see if the cat licks it up. I find it simpler and more organic and interactive to post the scrapings of my experience on Google+ because

A. It keeps me from having to force people to leave their social network to go look at my ridiculous website( Ed. Hey!), and

B. It allows for much richer and faster feedback than waiting for people to stumble across my blog and leave comments. Which I don’t think I can set up anyway, as my site’s on Weebly and while they’re the best, I don’t think they even have a module for comments. Which is just as well, because comments sections are the rotten apples of the internet. If you’re about to send me hate mail, go look at YouTube sometime. Also,

C. Social media deserves better than cat macros and depressing links to the nation-embarrassing perpetrations of Pat Robertson and John Boehner.

In other words, it takes out the internet middle-man and consolidates the user and the end-product. It takes the salesman out of the shadows of the mall or the big-box store, and sets him up on the sidewalk with a cart. What he’s selling isn’t always haute cuisine, but it’s a lot easier to access — and accessibility and visibility can make or break a salesman.

Especially when beef is what’s for dinner.

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 About S.A.Hunt

S. A. Hunt writes horror and fantasy fiction, and loves each and every one of his readers. If you’d like to see what kind of wild-eyed insanity he can get up to when the rent’s on the line, check out his new fantasy gunslinger novelThe Whirlwind in the Thorn Tree (The Outlaw King)
, available now on Amazon Kindle and paperback from Amazon.com.

 

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