Tim Ferriss – Social Media and The Social Proof – Part 2

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Here’s the second part to yesterday’s interview with Tim Ferriss.
Your book was ranked at around #4 on Amazon for a while, and got even more publicity all over the web, all before it was even officially out. It seems almost blasphemous to talk about converting a blog into a book but then to recommend using offline media to promote it. You argue that online media is saturated and therefore difficult to get attention in, furthermore, you recommend using neglected media such as person-to-person, print, radio and so on (for advertising) rather than fighting people for attention online. Intuition would suggest that those media are neglected for a reason and that a natural progression took place to a more efficient mechanism for achieving the same end. The ultimate goal as you stated is to talk to people and get them to link back to you. Did you consider (or how do you feel about) social media as an audience-building or link-building strategy?
I don’t think that online media in entirely saturated (though close), but I do think online contact via email is a poor vehicle for developing relationships with top bloggers, for example. I think that certain media are neglected for a reason — many reasons — but that doesn’t mean that they’re good reasons. Advertising isn’t that different from fashion. Once a few cool kids are doing X, then everyone stampedes to do X. Ugg boots weren’t cool when I wore them in grade-school, but as soon as Nicole Richie wears them — BAM. Just because more people use PPC now than two years ago doesn’t make it effective; it just makes it popular. PPC is too overpriced in most cases as a result of its raised demand.
I still believe that neglected media presents interesting options. Demand is low so prices drop, there are still significant audiences to be captured. As far as social media is concerned, if we’re talking about sites like Digg, Netscape, Reddit, I think that they’re very valuable tools for link and audience building. I used Sigg and Netscape exactly when i wanted to — after the book launched at the end of the first week. I have this on my 4-week launch plan on a white-board in my office. Why does it work? It provides social proof. People want to experience things that others have already tested and shown as good. With social networks, you get social proof en masse. With targeted blogs, you get social proof from an authority figure.
Could you elaborate on what you mean by ‘social proof’?
1 person says it’s good. So what? 5 people say it’s good. Maybe. 689 people say it’s good. I have to check it out, and I’ll feel stupid if i’m the only one who doesn’t like it. In blogs, it’s more of a “if Mr./Ms. X likes it, it must be good” effect. It’s social proof by magnitude of authority vs. magnitude of numbers. Most people don’t like to make decisions. It’s tiring to make decisions all the time, so we look for social indicators of what to choose and what to do. harnessing that is tricky, but it can be done.
I got tagged in a meme a few days back: ‘why I blog’. And seeing as I have the privilege of talking to you, I would like to go in more detail as to why you started your blog. There are two things that I would like to specially focus on. First, what do you mean when you say your ‘free blog ended up being the best PR tool’? And after than, you say that you used your blog to build a ‘platform’ or a fan base (audience). What steps did you take to make sure that the blog would gain traction and that the visitors would have a reason to stick around?
I post almost purely how-to articles that push things to extremes. The content really is king. I did no mass emailing about the blog, no “please link to me” emails, no registration, nothing like that. I depended on speaking at www.sxsw.com to get my first readers, who were also bloggers. All you need are a few people who are efficient with word-of-mouth (via twitter, email, blogging, social networks, etc.) to get the snowball started.
I always ask myself when I think of a blog topic: would I link to this if I were a blogger with a 100,000-person subscriber base on Feedburner? If the answer is “no”, even as I drop that to, say, 2,000 subscribers, I drop the topic and repeat the process. Some critics of my “geek to freak: how I gained 34 lbs. of muscle in 4 weeks” post have asked why I waited two years to post all of my results. The answer is simple: I didn’t have anything to promote then. I waited until I wanted a lot of attention and controversy, which was exactly one week after my first book launched nationwide.
How to do you build traffic? First, write extreme and uncommon material, focusing on how-to. Then, meet bloggers in person and convince them to read your blog, and offer to guest blog on blogs that have more traffic than yours. That’s all I did. My blog now has several thousand Feedburner subscribers, and my 4-week anniversary just passed. The book certainly has helped, but most of it has come from what i just covered.
The world is full of people who settle for mediocrity in the name of being “realistic”. I know, as I used to be one of them. It’s a fate worse than death. I encourage people to be skeptical, but most assertions of something being “impossible” are exactly that: assertions. Surprisingly few things are impossible. Some people will never believe, and i’m not trying to convert them. It’s impossible. It’s like an atheist and a catholic having a debate — forget about it.
I’m interested in catching the people who are on the fence and want to find an option other than 80-hour weeks and 4-hour aerobics sessions that chafe buttocks and make no one happy. Being overworked with chafed buttocks is no way to go through life 🙂
You said, “Blogging is underestimated by many, but it’s overestimated by even more. It’s not a panacea or a silver bullet. It is a tool you should pay a ton of attention to, but it’s still just one tool.” And just left it at that. I think that statement is more powerful than you let on, or than it was perceived to be. Could you elaborate on that?
Having a blog does nothing. Having a blog worth reading does a lot. Blogging is one communication vehicle, but it’s not a fix-all. Every fortune 500 company out there is clamoring over themselves to start an “open conversation” with blogs because it’s the “in” thing to do. Most of them couldn’t cost justify it to save their lives. Blogs are not right for everyone, and creating good material takes a lot of effort and energy. Half-assed blogging will get you nowhere. That’s partially why I only blog 1 or 2 times per week maximum; any more than that and the quality will suffer. I create 90% original content, as linking to a bunch of writing on other blogs isn’t worth much in a world addicted to everything new.
Do you really need a blog, or do you need an audience? I have a blog because I enjoy getting my thoughts to the world, but it also gives me some limited credibility with other bloggers. Can you borrow someone else’s audience instead of building your own? if so, that is a more efficient vehicle for disseminating your message – your big idea. Don’t think of pitching; think of new big ideas and the traffic will go where you want it to. At the end of the day, that’s what gets people talking, and getting people talking is what creates the wildfire effect we all want.
I had more than a dozen publishers turn me down, I had hundreds tell me creating a bestseller was impossible (one bookseller even sent me spreadsheets to prove it — how thoughtful!). Now, here we are. The book hit the lists in the first week, not because I executed perfectly, but because I believed it could be done. Think big and don’t listen to people who tell you it can’t be done. Life’s too short to think small.
**Note: This concludes the two-part interview with Tim Ferriss. I would love to hear feedback from all of you so please leave a comment.

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