Small Business Marketing

How We Killed Social Media

Publishes August 8, 2008

“Should I write pieces made for the front page?”

“Should I spend more time on StumbleUpon?”

“Can Twitter seriously do my blog any good?”

“What about Reddit? And what the hell is Sphinn?”

If I go four waking hours between hearing one of these questions from a home business client, it must be a religious holiday. Everybody wants to know about social media. But they don’t want to know just anything about social media.

They want to know what they’re doing wrong.

They’re doing all the right things. They’re getting involved in the community. They’re putting all the right buttons in all the right places. They’re networking. They’re making friends. They’re voting up other people’s content. They’re doing everything they were told to do.

So why is nothing happening?

Even a few months ago, your article would get Stumbled. You’d get a few thumbs up. You’d feel pretty good. Your article would get 5,000 visitors in a day.

Today, a comparable article gets Stumbled. You get a few thumbs up. You feel pretty good. Your website gets a few visitors. You get a few more thumbs up. Your article gets 5,000 visitors in a month.

What happened?

What nobody’s talking about is that you’re not doing anything wrong. The rules got changed and we didn’t get the memo.

So who changed the rules? We did.

We exploited the loopholes.

Let’s imagine you find an IRS loophole. You make a killing, and then you tell everyone you can find — you want to be seen as an expert, after all. “What a cool idea!” they say, and they try it themselves. They tell all their friends. Some get in themselves, some don’t, but soon enough, the IRS catches on.

If one or two people exploit an IRS loophole, it becomes the IRS’s dirty little secret. Not worth the time and money to fix it. When dozens, then hundreds, then thousands of people exploit the same loophole — especially after the originals publicly broadcasted how they made their killing — it becomes worth it, and the loophole gets shut.

No killing for you. You lose.

Digg made headlines in January when they changed their algorithm, insisting on a diversity requirement for submissions to succeed. Why did they do that? Because we tried to screw the system. We said, “Hey! If I get 200 people to Digg all my stuff, I’ll be on the front page every day. I’ll be the Social Media King of the World!”

Uh, did we seriously think they wouldn’t catch on?

We watered down the hooch.

Let’s say you’re having a party, and you’ve set aside a certain amount of booze for all of your guests. When you have 10 guests, everybody gets happily loaded and goes to bed with the wrong people and the world is as it should be.

But imagine that each of your friends invited 10 of their own friends. Or 100. Or 1,000. Then you’ve got 100 or 1,000 or 10,000 people sharing the original amount of hooch. No-one’s drunk, and everybody’s looking at each other and wondering why.

What the hell did we think was going to happen?

I don’t use StumbleUpon anymore, but I still have the toolbar installed. Clicking “Stumble” three times got me these three cream of the crop websites:

Support Save — “For just $897 per month each, you can have a full-time dedicated employee or team of employees with the skills you need. Your employee(s) will have excellent English skills with almost no accent.”

Franchise Direct — “Franchise Direct’s directory provides you with a wide list of franchises for sale and business opportunities for sale. It represents top franchises and businesses.”

Wikipedia List of Acquisitions by Google — “This is a list of acquisitions by Google, a computer software and an online search engine company. Each acquisition is for the respective company in its entirety, unless otherwise specified.”

Is this seriously the best of the Internet? The best of the best? The crème de la crème? We added shit to the wine and then wondered why the wine tasted like shit.

We didn’t lose the point. We tried to screw the point.

Let’s think about the colloquial definition of “stumble upon”. When you’re going about your business and you STUMBLE UPON something noteworthy, so noteworthy that you think you should tell your friends, you want to have a way to tell them. StumbleUpon gave you the opportunity to do so. The key here was that you were going about your business. Not paying a few thousand bucks to a marketing consultant to pretend like you were going about your business.

How about Digg? According to their website, Digg defines itself like this:

Digg — All News, Videos & Images.

News. Video. Images. Go take a peek at the last thing that you dugg. Was it video? No? Was it an image? No? Was it news? I highly, highly doubt it.

Everybody’s freaking out about the bury brigades, storming around Digg and burying what they believe to be “spam”.

“But it’s not spam!” we scream.

No? Is it news? Would Dan Rather cover it? The New York Times? Hell, Kelly Ripa? USA Today? No? THEN IT’S NOT NEWS AND IT’S NOT FOR DIGG.

What about bookmarking? Remember bookmarking? You’d find something you thought was worth coming back to later, and you bookmarked it. made it possible for that to be web based, so you can access your bookmarks from anywhere. If you wanted, you could even give other people access to your bookmarks and they could check out what you thought was cool.

Then people started writing posts about common factors of articles that made the front page of We noticed the headline tricks and that the number 7 worked in the title and that if we put a “bookmark this” button in our copy, that we could screw the system.

Now the system is screwing us.

Is social media marketing dead? Of course not. Will it ever be the same again? Ditto.


Image credit: freeparking

Time Management: How To Pull An All Nighter

Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you’re behind. Maybe very behind. So behind that there’s a very good chance you’re going to lose this gig if you don’t get it done soon.

Let’s also say that you have ignored all sage advice to the contrary and have left this particular task until the last minute and now you don’t have enough time to get it done. Your only choice is to pull an all nighter. (Obviously we’re talking about you now and not me because I’ve never been in this situation in my life.)

(That was sarcasm.)


When I Googled the phrase “How To Pull An All Nighter” I got a lot of tips that sounded like absolute garbage to me, but when I talked to the resident test market, he said some of the stuff would really work well for him. This led me to a groundbreaking discovery. Maybe, just maybe, we humans aren’t all identical. Maybe different things work for different people. Maybe the reason all the advice you’ve been reading isn’t working is because the guy writing it wouldn’t know you if he woke up in bed beside you.

So how do YOU pull an all nighter and minimize the impact? Here is my patent-not-pending know-thyself method to doing it without being totally useless the next day.

Give yourself as much notice as you can.

Obviously, you’re not going to know a week in advance. But if 4 o’clock in the afternoon rolls around and you know there’s a good chance you’re going to have to work through the night, start preparing yourself as early as you can. Deciding to stay up all night sucks. It sucks even more if you make your decision at midnight.

Figure out if caffeine helps you or hurts you.

Some very smart people say not to use caffeine as a stimulant because it always precedes a crash. I’m sure there’s solid science to back that up, but I couldn’t do it without tea. I drink coffee in the day time, but if I have to stay up late or stay up all night, I drink several cups of tea. For a friend of mine, it’s chocolate. Chocolate wires him up like a monkey on speed, so that should be his drug of choice.

Eat lightly.

Keep yourself fed, but try and eat in small doses throughout the night. If you’re staying up, it’s because you need to focus and get something done. You can’t focus if you’re starving. You can’t stay up if you’re stuffed and sluggish. Eat lots of small snacks.

Front-end load your protein.

Carbohydrates are not your friend in this situation. They’ll make you sleepy now or they’ll make you sleepy later. Either way, not a good idea. I’m not saying you have to go all Atkins on me, but try to keep your snacks protein heavy. Yogurt, nuts, berries, and veggies are all good choices.

Get good light.

By good light, I mean good for you. Some people do the obvious, which is light up their office like a Christmas tree to eliminate any associations with sleep. For me, dimmer light works a little better because I associate the time when everyone’s in bed with productivity. I use a lamp and candles.

Think about noise.

If I’m working I usually prefer silence, but I can sometimes handle music that’s instrumental or not in English. I get too distracted otherwise. (Andrea Bocelli works for me, but that’s largely because Andrea Bocelli and I are sleeping together. Shh.) Some like a lot of classical. The sound of my mother’s computer puts her to sleep, so she has to figure that into the equation. I know some people react well to music with a strong or jagged beat so they don’t get lulled into sleeping. I hear hiphop is good for this. You’ll probably want to stay away from anything too calming like jazz or ambient since their whole purpose in life is to relax you.

Think about naps.

An entire profession of doctors operate very effectively taking cat naps throughout the night. I happen to know that if one gentleman I know took a catnap, he wouldn’t get up for three days. Think about yourself in this situation – are you the type of person who wakes up from a nap refreshed, or do you get disoriented and stupid? Listen to your experience.

Ideally, you’d have thought about all of these things before you found yourself in this situation. (Well, ideally you wouldn’t be in this situation, but you’re the one who sat on your ass watching CSI reruns all day yesterday and didn’t get a damn thing done.) However, no matter how much of a time crunch you’re in, taking half an hour or so to mess around with your environment at the beginning of the night can dramatically increase your productivity later.

Play with your light, your music, your food and see what keeps you up. Bear in mind, whatever it is that gets you going in the day will probably get you going at night too, so consider employing some of your daytime tactics as well.

I don’t know how long you’ve been on this Earth, but it’s probably been at least seventeen years. In that long or longer, you’ve figured out what circumstances are most conducive to you getting things done. Each specific trick isn’t going to work for everyone, but figure out what works for you instead of just going by what you read in some blog once.

In completely unrelated news, this little blog went live two weeks ago today. Thank you for your support and your emails and your comments and your Stumbles. Today we came in over 1500 pageviews, which is pretty exciting for a blog so young that if it was a kitten, it’d barely have its eyes open. Thank you very, very much. I’m grateful.

Originally published October 17, 2007.


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