Name: Sebouh Gemdjian
Bio: My passion for the written word morphed from my journalism background into an exploration of creative marketing. This change resulted from the blossoming of new media in the last decade and my immigrant experience. Emigrating from Bulgaria in my teens, I developed a balance between staying true to myself and representing ideas in ways that translate to diverse communities. I graduated from Ramapo College in 2000 with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism, and started out as a staff writer at Inner Realm Magazine, where I was introduced to meditation, which I still practice today. On the other end of the spectrum, I wrote features covering the Italian American community at Newark's Italian Tribune Newspaper. I joined BurrellesLuce as a research editor in 2008. Since then I've established a freelance network helping independent authors, artists and musicians promote themselves by representing them on blogs and social media. I strive to delve further into the public relations universe by contributing to the Fresh Ideas blog. LinkedIn: Sebouh Gemdjian Facebook: BurrellesLuce Twitter: @sebriglia
Posts by Sebouh Gemdjian:
reddit has earned a high-profile reputation for viral content; even President Obama answered questions on the Ask Me Anything subreddit the day before his State of the Union Address last year. At first look reddit can be off-putting to the uninitiated. It does not have the slick, user-friendly layout of Twitter or Facebook, and it’s reminiscent of the old pre-social media message boards.
reddit and Twitter
When Louis CK self-released his Live at the Beacon Theater comedy album and posted it on Twitter, two hundred thousand of his over three million followers downloaded it for five dollars each and made him a million dollars immediately, proving the value of Twitter. On the other hand rock journalist Chuck Klosterman told the Trip City podcast that Twitter does not work, because when he tweeted about his new book, I Wear the Black Hat, his sales actually went down. He said he feels the ever-vigilant young techies on Twitter saw through his tweet as a “commercial.” About figuring out what works in general creatively and what doesn’t, Klosterman says he has learned that “there is no metric and trying [to figure it out] makes it worse.” Perhaps with Twitter Louis CK was just better at appearing like he was not trying.
Twitter tends to be an excellent resource for a personality or institution that already has a place in popular culture. It’s also a tool for reaching fans immediately with information about events. Trying too hard, as Klosterman puts it in his example, seems to leave followers a bit weary. The reason may be that there is a blurring of the lines between friendship and business on social networks, and despite what telemarketers may be taught, most people do not want their friends acting like salesmen, or vice versa.
So how does one gain popularity on Twitter without already being popular? Vetted content. Those who do not market on Twitter are obsessed by finding something undiscovered and evaluating it. They are young, tech savvy, but not yet financially successful. They go to reddit for raw content. reddit worked for me when promoting posts on different platforms, to which I still get clicks, and in the case of a music gear post I did, I still get referrals seven months after posting it from people interested in equipment. Warning: Even on a relatively successful post like the one I just mentioned, not all comments will be pretty.
One answer to the question “Why does reddit work?” may be that it works because it is not a social network. redditors go there to vet content, not to make friends.
How to be successful on reddit:
Up-votes (akin to Facebook likes) make you visible. Comments seem to be mostly irrelevant. Of course, overwhelmingly negative reception can have a detrimental effect, and a completely positive reception can theoretically create an instant hit, but this is rare.
Find the subreddit most relevant to your content. A subreddit is what the pages on reddit are called. You will see a menu on the homepage with the most popular ones, but there are thousands. Think of any topic and write it in the url after www.reddit.com/r/. If no one started that page, you can. Keep paraphrasing the topic, as in www.reddit.com/r/marketing or www.reddit.com/r/publicrelations until you find one that serves your purpose. The more popular a subreddit is, the more up-votes you will need to get higher in the queue of posts, and perhaps get in the “rising,” ”controversial” or even “hot” categories. The more specific the subreddit, the less popular it is likely to be, but you will need fewer up-votes to be seen.
It’s a balancing act. For a list of the 5,000 most popular subreddits, go to http://www.redditlist.com. Interesting note: When I promoted a brainwave therapy MP3 download that I produced for one of my clients, the post received no up-votes or comments, yet the posting resulted in sales. This is not the norm, but it does happen.
Post when few people are on. Then very few up-votes will go a long way. Once you’ve done that you can post on the larger, less specific subreddits before everyone gets on at 7pm EST, but your post may get trampled by an avalanche of content when traffic spikes.
The most important thing is that the title gives redditors an accurate idea of the content at the other end of the link. The title of a successful reddit post has to act like a skilled tour guide—it has to point at things and know their names. It’s not the same as creating an SEO-friendly headline, it’s about being clear what the content is.
Data scientist Randal Olson has posted an in-depth statistical analysis of reddit on Business Insider Australia, which includes a word cloud of the most popular words in reddit titles. Cross post (x-post) is the most popular one, and it means that you’re posting something that has already been posted. It is important to let redditors know that you’re doing this, or they will down-vote you.
Once you become familiar with the workings of reddit, it can be a great place to help drive traffic to your content and reach an audience you can’t reach through traditional social media. How does reddit fit into your content marketing strategy? What results have you seen from interacting with reddit users?
The problem: The phone keeps ringing, projects pile up, we try to multitask, but all we keep thinking about is the project we’re not doing, so we sacrifice quality and blame it all on limited time and resources.
The cause: “We’re saddled with a Stone Age mind in a digital world,” Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn told Google employees as he introduced them to meditation in 2007. A pioneer of blending Western medicine with mindfulness meditation, Kabat-Zinn is a molecular biologist, a trained Zen teacher, and founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In that talk at the “Googleplex” in Mountain View, Calif., Kabat-Zinn defined the Stone Age mind as the tendency to fall into obsession with doing (as in the next thing to survive) and ignore the doer (as in the one active right now).
In her book The One Who is Not Busy—Connecting with Work in a Deeply Satisfying Way, Zen teacher Darlene Cohen writes that we fail at multitasking when we stay in the perception of the whole (our schedule), and don’t settle on anything because we keep shifting focus. When we’ve taken the time to settle on the doer, who only exists whenwe’re actually doing something, our schedule is a balanced interconnectedness of tasks, and when we haven’t done that our schedule appears chaotic.
The solution: According to Cohen we can find relief by “matching focused awareness to whatever motions our hands and bodies are actually doing at the moment.” It is much more satisfying than paying attention to something we’re not doing. I’ve found it useful to include sensations in the body as part of the activities to be aware of. Once our feet are firmly planted in our current activity, we can look at the rest of our schedule for perspective and then go back to the task at hand. She calls this type of focus “simultaneous inclusion.” Dr. Zinn presents his version of this point in this short, guided meditation taken from his 2007 Google talk.
Here is an exercise from Cohen’s book that is strikingly useful in the workplace, called “Talking Meditation”:
“In any conversation, short or long, tune in to your own breath at least three times while (1) listening to another person speak, and (2) while you yourself are talking… This is true simultaneous inclusion. You are thinking and feeling your breath at the same time… Your breath gives you the distance you need from the conversation in order to participate in it from real interest rather than from habitual conditioning.”
Maintenance: Zoketsu Norman Fischer, former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center and frequent speaker at the Brooklyn Zen Center, teaches a course called “Mindfulness in Legal Education.” The group has a mission statement outlining examples of specific perspectives connected to meditation that foster productivity and inspiration.
One perspective includes wisdom and creativity. Meditating on awareness of the breath and letting thoughts come and go without grasping brings more self-honesty, less distortion, and a unity of mind and heart. As anyone looking for inspiration for a new project will attest, passion and logic in the right ratio rev up the creative engine, and meditation can be a means of ignition accessible anywhere.
Compassion is beneficial to productivity, as it inspires empathy, connectedness and teamwork. It is a meditative perspective that happens when we fail at balancing focus on our current tasks with mindfulness of their context. Once we realize that what we’re doing at that moment is failing, the way everyone does sometimes, we can go back to a clear, inspired perspective of our priorities. Insight meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg calls it “exercising the letting-go muscle” in her talks. When we remember it’s all about starting again fresh, motivation and inspiration usually follow.
Andrew Chen defines a viral loop as simply “the steps a user goes through between entering the site and inviting the next set of users.” Former entrepreneur-in-residence at Mohr-Davidow Ventures, now freelance adviser of startups and expert on the vanguard of marketing, Chen dedicates the rest of his collection of essays, “The Viral Startup: A Guide to Designing Viral Loops,” to demonstrating how every product can be seen as a site with a viral loop built in. A viral loop is most definitely not “a mythical vortex that propels products with a magic bang into public consciousness and millions of YouTube hits,” which is what I thought it was before reading his book.
A viral loop is what brought us the viral video phenomenon “The Fox” this fall.
This is a common viral loop scenario: people react to a link they find online and share it on a social network like over and over again, and next thing you know American teens are in love with a South Korean rapper and something called “Gangnam Style.” A viral loop is a business model that emphasizes an exponentially growing feedback-and-recommendation chain of users.
Here is an example of a company that seemed to be doing just fine without a viral loop business model: Years ago I worked for a New York double-decker bus company that the tourism industry anticipated would be a refreshing, disruptive newcomer. As a family business with a history of ventures, however, they opted for the “tried and true” approach of beginning with a Minimum Viability Product—they figured out the minimum product necessary to qualify for the market, just to feel things out.
They bought old buses and fitted them with only a top deck – there was no interior for passengers who preferred to ride from inside. Because of the constant influx of tourists in New York, profits were high despite the fact that the business was in a preliminary stage, and customer dissatisfaction was frequent, especially concerning customer service. The company had not made social media a priority either. All the elements of a viral loop were missing, yet the company prospered. We’ll catch up with their journey a little later.
Chen explains that the key mistake marketing departments make is that they attempt to “bolt” a viral loop onto a product, not realizing that in order for a viral loop to work, it has to be built into the product itself. It is not about an ad going viral, it is about letting the consumer feel like they are playing a very real role in the culture of this Happy Meal, or cell phone, or song. The implication here is that only experiences go viral.
One of Chen’s essays in the book is about the role Steve Jobs played in the marketing of Apple products by making sure each of them was constructed as a viral loop from the start.
A way to build a viral loop into a product is to ensure that the consumer can share an experience; that experience would be balanced between marketing, functionality, and design at every point of the product’s evolution, as Apple did with the iPhone. Even the first iPhone had high functionality and sleek design, while encouraging users to share experiences through the device itself. In a department-driven company, there is competition between these aspects, and the focus on marketing very often wins out. Steve Jobs edited the output of each department and blend it all into a whole.
Awareness of products as facilitators for viral loops separates the waning business culture of yesterday from the adaptable, sustainable entrepreneurships of the future.
Let’s return to the tour-bus company. Because of low overhead, during the recession the company was able to actually take a significant amount of their competitors’ market share. As a result, they stagnated in the Minimum Viability Product model. Its purpose was no longer to explore the market, but to turn in profit quickly. They acquired their main competitor and applied the same model to them. However, small modern tour van startups that already have their own tour-guide apps, have a sustainable loop of followers, and who will soon be able to afford state-of-the-art double-deckers have been growing in the shadows of the skyscrapers.
The colossal tour bus company does have one very important asset, which if exploited can integrate a viral loop into their business model and help them blow any tech-centered, GPS-activated tour guide app-wielding startups out of the water. They have walking, talking viral loops in their live tour guides. A happy employee is a perfect balance of marketing, engineering and design.
Can the future be the Minimum Desirability Model—defined by Chen as “the simplest experience necessary to prove out a high-value, satisfying product experience for users, independent of business viability?”
The difference between minimum effort for maximum profit and simplicity is subtle, but it makes all the difference in who will survive the exponentially accelerating technological shifts of the modern marketplace. Perhaps a viral loop is one way of looking at true simplicity.