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Writing & Publishing

Shameless Self Promotion Turns You into The Emperor With “New Clothes”

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People work, buy, gimmick, and game their way to perceived authority. Buying bot engagement online, or fitness stars using fake weights on Instagram; Are not so different from hiring mourners: or the fake strongman acts that were a staple of old carnivals. A magician’s twist on the strongman gimmick suppressed a revolt in Algeria for the Second French Empire. People can, and sometimes want, to be fooled.

Social media “stars” of today tricking the public aren’t the same as Robert-Houdin tricking the Marabouts out of a revolution. But both distort reality to gain influence over others. On performers deceiving audiences, Penn Jillette put it this way.

“My friend, David Blaine, seems to feel that the audience is supposed to leave a magic performance thinking that they’ve witnessed something supernatural and not just a trick. Penn & Teller proudly do tricks; David might want the audience to think he’s really magic.”

Oh, some fools, oh, they fool themselves

Professionally, not just for performing artist or celebrities, people try to gain influence. For example, naming trade association memberships and awards to land a client. I do it; Push ROI has client testimonials and logos on our home page.

There is nothing wrong with framing one’s work in the best possible way. However, it is easy to join an “everyone accepted” trade association, or win some “for sale to the highest bidder” awards and pretend these are credible. After all, most won’t know the difference and those who do likely want to keep the illusion going. If few people believe something, but a majority pretend a devout faith; is that truth by consensus?

In the pursuit of influencing others, we sometimes distort reality. An A+ rating from the BBB or a chamber of commerce award are not bad things; just not the level of honor the recipients often pretend or even believe them to be.

They’re not fooling me

Many agencies, including ours, are Google Partners. It’s a good thing. Partners must pass several tests, manage a minimum amount of ad spend and get a reasonable performance benchmark in AdWords. Being a partner helps a little in our jobs; we have someone at Google we can contact when AdWords related problems arise, and that is nice.

Still, it sounds better than it is, and I’ve seen agencies exaggerate Google Partnership. Most agencies in the program are competent. However, the badge does not guarantee rockstar performance, and not having partner status isn’t a sign of incompetence. Still, some agencies imply that the partner badge means they can walk on water, or even that being a Google Partner has something to do with SEO (it categorically doesn’t).

You can fool others, but It’s easy to fool yourself too; I can think of four honors, awards or titles I achieved because I felt they were so amazing as to be life and career changing. Sadly, none of these were more than a small resume bullet point, and pretending otherwise won’t help me in the long term. Still, it is often tempting to try to inflate the value of an honor.

And I know it isn’t true

A few friends and I talked about starting our own society for geniuses working to change the world. It would be Triple Nine Society meets Rotary Club. We called our plan, “the Lucille Ball growth hack” because it was overly complicated, but entertaining for a half hour. Using the address of friends employer’s we’d register a domain name, and toss up a splash page, implying that a fortune 100 tech company may be behind this new organization.

We’d print very nice looking invitations and send them to well known, academics, entrepreneurs, journalists, etc. Our, oh so fancy invites would say the recipient was being “considered for membership in a new, blah, blah…” you get the idea. We’d send out 1,000 invitations in one day and see the response. We joked about even asking for CV’s and IQ test results from respondents.

Once we had the first few hundred members, we’d send out press releases for the organization and have a members forum. Obviously, we’d list each member publicly on the site. Eventually, adding ourselves as members: Giving us a credible genius society and a network.

It was only a dinner conversation, we never tried any of it. But I like thinking about what could have happened. Would we end up making a real thing or just distort a lot of people’s reality? Maybe no one would fall for it? I think we could have fooled many people, because they would have an emotional blind spot, wanting this secretive honor to be real. Much like the way some people believe a magician has supernatural powers or some of your friends believe crazy conspiracy theories.

Oh, I know it isn’t true

In this case, even members who figured out we were bogus may not want to say anything. Undoubtedly many of them would have bragged to family, friends, and colleagues if they’d ever been fooled, even a little. The social pressure would make them want to keep up the illusion.

All the complex emotions I outlined in my thought experiment are seen in real life when a photographer creates fake photography contests or some major publication adopts a pay to play model. People do believe, or at least pretend to believe the myth is a reality. The fable of the Emperor’s New Clothes is a story about the distortion of reality, locked down by social pressure; As explained by Steven Pinker, (The entire video is embedded below this post).

“When the little boy said the emperor was naked, he wasn’t telling anyone anything that they didn’t already know. They could see the Emperor naked and on display, but he was changing the state of their knowledge nonetheless; because at that point everyone knew that everyone else knew, that everyone else knew, that everyone else knew, the emperor was naked. That changed their relationship with the Emperor allowing them to challenge him with their laughter.”

Some people fall for metaphorical signs flashing “scam”. People buy training classes after they see a video of a man with 14 cars in which it’s fun to drive his books around. Variations of the Nigerian prince scam still work, and people join cults. But for the most part, when you by into a lie or try to warp other people’s reality, you open yourself up to be mocked when someone points out the obvious.

Header Image – YouTube Screenshot Of Embedded Video


Mason Pelt is the Founder and a Managing Director of Push ROI. Follow him on his blog.

What Milton Friedman Taught Me About Guest Blogging

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Since I was young I’ve been a bit of an economics nerd, and despite Milton Friedman’s evil creation (income tax withholdings) I’ve forgiven him and learned from his writings. Strangely, Friedman taught me more about guest blogging than any marketing guru I’ve met.

Years ago I came across an interview of Friedman on C-SPAN Booknotes talking about F.A. Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom” the pertinent quote is

 “They’ve [The New York Times] turned down many an op-ed piece from me which I’ve subsequently published in The Wall Street Journal or someplace else.”

You’ve read that right. Nobel Laureate, National Medal of Science & Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient Milton Friedman had op-eds rejected. It wasn’t because his writing was bad or because he lacked the credibility. So when rejected, he submitted elsewhere.

This was eye opening because as someone with dyslexia I never thought of myself much of a writer. When my posts weren’t accepted, I’d assumed it was because my writing was bad. Many, perhaps most guest posts meet rejection because the quality is lacking. This isn’t always the case as Friedman clearly proves.

Like it or not, publications often have a narrative, and they don’t always want content that’s far outside of that purview. As Friedman put it

“They [The New York Times] have not been very favorable to these ideas [Austrian Economics] in the past.”

Since this isn’t a post about journalistic ethics, let’s just agree editors have the right to turn down any content for any reason. And let’s celebrate having more than one news source.

Quality aside, a surplus of content is another reason a publication will reject guest submissions. How many long-form in-depth reporting pieces on the same story does a news magazine need?

Applying Friedman’s philosophy to guest blogging

About a year ago I set out to write a post with a single goal; publish in TechCrunch. I spent 5 hours writing a base post that contained all my primary points, resources and some of the tone of voice and styling I wanted. Next, I read several posts with similar or the same topic on TechCrunch and adapted my style to match the format to fit the publication better. I had several people proofread and review the post.

After all that, I submitted to TechCrunch via a web form. A few days later, I got an email saying my submission was accepted. You can read my post 3 nearly free growth hacks now. I’d done it, on my First try! No direct contact with anyone at TechCrunch and I was published. I thought the next time would be easy too.

A few months later I wrote a post about user testing following the same process. I got expert feedback and had several people edit my ‘lysdexic blurn typos’ before I submitted. Two weeks later I got a rejection.

Keep trying after rejection

Even with the rejection, I felt the post was good; It wasn’t perfect. I used passive voice (As did George Orwell even when warning people not to use passive voice in the Politics and the English Language essay) and lacked a solid conclusion, but it was a strong starting point, and I didn’t know what to change. So I followed Friedman’s lead and submitted to another publication I love; VentureBeat. I got an email a few days later from the Op-ed editor Mo Marshall (who is a rockstar BTW).

She sent feedback; I tried to make the changes she asked for, and… turned what I felt was a good article into a piece of pretentious garbage. I’d completely lost my voice and because Marshall is a great editor; She went back to the first version and sent me half a dozen changes (including removal of my beloved passive voice), and the post ran as Stop overthinking UX and try the coffee shop test.

The changes weren’t major, but they were significant. And the rejection from TechCrunch resulted in another of my favorite industry news outlets running my article. Thank you, Milton!

A method to write & pitch guest posts

Because I’m dyslexic, writing is time-consuming and a bit painful. If no one is paying me and I’m not very passionate about a topic, it’s unlikely I’ll write an article. Currently, I don’t have any publications paying me regularly for content, so I write as the spirit moves about things I feel strongly. Yes, I often have the marketing goal of building authority, but that’s not the main reason I write.

When I care enough to write, I’ll create what I call a base post as described above. The base post contains my primary points, any solid one-liners I can think of, resource links as needed and when beneficial quotes from experts I know or someone from HARO.

Make a list of publications

If I don’t have an outlet in mind for what I’ve written, I research using Google News to find media outlets that may want my content. I then see if 1. They have a preferred contact method for unsolicited manuscripts or 2. If I know someone who can introduce me to an editor.

Once I have a list of three publications that could run my article; I determine where I’d most like to submit. I base preference on distribution, quality of editorial, email lists and social presence, if they pay writers, how much contact I can have with the editors if I like the website and too many subjective reasons to name.

Edit the article to the publication’s style

With the first target in mind, I edit the post to the publication’s style and tone of voice (if they have one). Some outlets are edgier than others. I also try to add links to other posts on that website within my submission.

Semi-final draft complete, I ask other humans for feedback. Spelling and grammar, story flow and sometimes significant changes for accuracy. Once I have an article I think is worth publishing. I’ll send a message to the publication using their preferred format for a pitch.

If I’m accepted, or an editor wants to work with me, fantastic! If not, I re-edit and submit to the Wall Street Je…err whatever my version would be in this context.

All I can do is write to the best of my ability and submit in the most relevant way possible. Not everything I write is worth publishing, but this method of writing, editing, and pitching is one that’s worked for me, a renowned economist and maybe you.

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Mason Pelt is the Founder and a Managing Director of Push ROI.  Follow him on his blog.  Feel free to checkout the services offered by Push ROI, inc. Including YouTube Channel Management