Ryan Holiday‘s book, Trust Me – I’m Lying, is a great primer on how easy it is to use bloggers to distribute your content. But also includes significant warnings on how this tactic can be manipulated. The following passage is typical of the kinds of gems you will find in the book.
When you are promoting a post about something that has potential to become viral but is not important enough for the major media outlets to care about then “post in a lower traffic tier with the understanding that content filters up as well as down. The smaller sites, with their ability to dig deeper into the internet, act as farm teams for the larger blogs and news media.”
Tactics and Resources
Holiday is a master at working this system. He recommends two PR resources to help promote your content: PR Web and HARO (help a reporter out). However, his favorite tactic was to leverage popular bloggers to disperse his content for him.
He identifies the bloggers that are known for writing about topics that are relevant to what Holiday was trying to promote. He would gain their trust by sharing good content with them that they could use to build their fan base. Even to the point of giving them the story before he posted it on his client’s site thus giving his target bloggers a bump in traffic. He knows that what the regional bloggers report often filter up the media food chain until they ‘break’ on one of the major outlets which will often create a huge spike in traffic both for his story as well as the original blogger who made the original post.
However, he became disillusioned with his own tactics when he saw how it worked to destroy companies that had made a minor mistake. He goes into detail about how a the Daily Show was slandered by a former employee who claimed that the show was sexist. The national blogger reported the story with the headline, “The Daily Shows Woman Problem”, and quoted the ex-employee. The story was picked up by the New York Times and they were going to run the story with the headline, “The Daily Show Women Say Staff is Sexist” even though the current female employees did not feel mistreated at all. Fortunately, Holiday was able to convince the NYT’s reporter that the story had been inflated out of proportion by a good blogger who had leveraged all the negative accusations which led the reader to inaccurate conclusions.
Unfortunately, this is the plight of journalism in the Internet age. Reporters are overwhelmed with stories that they must vet. It is easy to just assume that the blog post from the Huffington Post or some other national media outlet was researched properly when in most cases they are not. Essentially, it is just lazy journalism. However, since the media are looking for traffic first and foremost it is easy to ignore the investigation that all stories should receive before being reported by more reputable outlets.
He makes the point that very often top stories polarize people. And he explains that you can polarize people by threatening the three Bs: behavior, belief or belonging. By doing this you get a huge virus like dispersion of your post. And keep in mind that the most powerful predictor of what spreads online is anger. Though it is playing with fire it can really spread a story quickly.
Though the book is good it is a bit depressing. Holiday makes the point that since sloppy journalism that threatens our three Bs will spread quickly it will be extremely difficult to eliminate or even manage the problem. For this reason he had to step away from some of the tactics that he used. Though he never felt that he abused the tactic and he did not use it to attack in person or business, it became difficult for him to reconcile what he was doing morally. A lesson for us all.
I will close the review with one of my favorite lines, and one that I agree with, is attributed to Roger Ebert who made the point that “snarking is cultural vandalism.” I agree with this completely. It is so easy to say a cutting, apparently witty remark that is almost true and get some great feedback from friends and acquaintances. We see it everyday in politics and it has spread throughout popular culture. We need to find ways to stop this cultural plague. Next time you see something written that you think is inaccurate please say so.