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The Terrible Truth About The News

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Journalism & Media 6 Comments
Wereldomroeper

The author, reading the news

It was one of the most cynical cartoons I’d ever seen.

A colleague had just put it up on the wall of the newsroom at Radio Netherlands International where I was working at that time. The frenzy of fanatic reporters filing their stories disappeared into the background as I read the headline:

“WHAT IS NEWS?”

The question couldn’t be simpler. The answer couldn’t be more complicated. And yet, everything around me was buzzing with deadline-driven activity, as if all of us actually knew what we were doing. After all, we were the news makers. 

NEWS” is one of those words that you and I hear and use many times a day. In fact, we hear it and use it so frequently, that we rarely question what it means. 

There are many words like that; words such as crisis, control, communityand support. These words are so common, it’s pretty obvious what they stand for, isn’t it? There’s no need to define them. 

SEMANTICS

Scientist and philosopher Alfred Korzybski, the father of general semantics, would strongly disagree. He coined the phrase: “The map is not the territory.” By that he meant that an abstraction derived from something, is not the thing itself. In plain language: you can’t get wet from the word water.

The word water (the map) is only a representation of something that’s much more fluid (the territory). But when we use the word water, it is generally assumed that we know what it means. Well, let’s ask the people of Flint, Michigan, about that.

That very human ability to make assumptions is the basis of many conflicts, big and small. People confuse maps with territories all the time. Here’s what I mean.

BUMPER TO BUMPER

“Support our troops” it said on the bumper sticker. Most Americans couldn’t agree more. Especially these days, it is important to support our troops, don’t you think? But on a deeper level, what does ‘support’ really mean?

Remember: the word ‘support’ is just a map. But of what? How exactly, should we support our troops? By increasing the defense budget? By sending those stationed abroad care packages for Christmas? Or should we support them by pulling them out of trouble spots, and bringing them back home?

As long as we’re talking on the level of abstractions, it’s easy to agree. For instance, who isn’t in favor of world peace? Who doesn’t want to see employment increased? Who doesn’t agree that we need to improve our system of education?

But how all these things should be achieved, is a different matter, and that’s where the bickering begins. Need I bring up the presidential race?

WHAT DO WE REALLY MEAN?

Bumper StickerThere’s a vital element through which we consciously (but most of the time unconsciously) determine meaning. Here’s a quick example.

Imagine seeing the “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker on a pickup truck with a veteran license plate. There’s also a “Semper Fi” sign on the F-150, and a third sticker saying: “Anti-War = Pro-Terrorism.” With that information in hand, how do you think the owner feels we can best support our troops?

Here’s a different scenario. You’re on the highway and you spot that same “Support Our Troops” sticker. But this time it’s stuck to the back of a beat up Volvo station wagon. Next to it is a “Bring them Home” sticker, and another one that reads: “Against the War. Not the Warrior.” Knowing what you know now, what assumptions would you make this time, about the owners’ views on how to best support our troops?

Even though we’re talking about the same sticker, the meaning of the words is contextdependent. And without knowing the context, we’re all in danger of mistaking the map for the territory. Our territory.

As a result, we carry on entire conversations based on mind reads and interpretations that have very little to do with the reality of the person we’re talking to. That person can be a (Facebook) friend, a foe, a politician, or our life partner.

Our lips might whisper the words: “I know exactly what you mean,” but truthfully, our perception is greatly based on distorted personal projections. 

Army MapTHE REAL WOR(L)D

I’m not just talking semantics here. Every soldier knows that the reality on the ground is most likely to be very different from the map that was used during the briefing. Confusing the map for the territory has led to deadly mistakes.

It has killed many relationships and numerous attempts to build bridges between people, cultures, faiths, and political systems. And because it is so ingrained in human nature, it won’t hit the headlines any day soon. The familiar might be deadly, but it’s also boring.

So, WHAT IS NEWS?

The cartoon at my radio station showed this very simple and sad formula for determining the newsworthiness of an event:

“The number of people killed, divided by how many miles away from home it happened.”

I did tell you it was one of the most cynical cartoons I had ever seen, didn’t I? It criticized the “If it doesn’t bleed, it doesn’t lead” type of journalism that is so pervasive these days. A plane crash in some far away land won’t make the six o’clock news, unless Americans are involved (if you live in the States, that is). Had it happened closer to home, it would have made the headlines.

That’s an example of the proximity effect. People tend to care more about what happens in their own backyard, especially if it’s grotesque, gruesome, and controversial.

MALFUNCTION

Now, let me ask you this: How many people experience a wardrobe malfunction on any given day? When it happens to you or me, it’s no big deal, but when a famous actress steps out of a limo, unintentionally showing some extra skin, the tabloids are having a field day.

It’s an example of the prominence effect. Whenever a celebrity is involved, the media will jump on it. The proximity effect and the prominence effect are just two of the filters journalists use to determine what news is. To a certain extent, these two filters are based on silly, but semi-objective criteria.

Here’s my question:

Is it possible to be utterly impartial, and leave personal values, opinions and ratings at the door when evaluating the newsworthiness of a story?

In 1996, the U.S. Society of Professional Journalists dropped the word “objectivity” from its code of ethics. Deborah Potter writes in The Handbook of Independent Journalism (a U.S. Department of State publication):

“Journalists are human beings, after all. They care about their work and they do have opinions. Claiming that they are completely objective suggests that they have no values.”

Twitter BadgeNEW SOURCES

Twitter has become one of the world’s fastest growing news sources. How objective do you think most of those microblogs (a.k.a. tweets) are? By definition, blogs usually reflect opinion instead of fact, and most Twitter-users don’t subscribe to a code of fair and balanced news-gathering, based on checking and double-checking sources to provide a complete picture. Twitter-chatter is highly subjective. That’s one of the reasons for its popularity.

But let’s bring it a bit closer to home. You’re a reasonable person, aren’t you? When push comes to shove, can you set your own prejudices aside, and open your mind to whatever information comes your way?

THE MIRROR

Well, let’s see how objective you are. When you see a “map,” do you think you really know the “territory”?

Remember that F-150 pick-up truck with the “Anti-War = Pro-Terrorism” sticker, the veteran license plate, and the “Semper Fi” sign?

That redneck driver is surely a right-wing republican Fox-News watching ex-marine in favor of killing our way out of any conflict, with an NRA endorsed semi-automatic rifle, yes? If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck…

Well, as you get off the highway to pump some gas, you end up parking your car right next to the F-150. A young guy in a “Life is Good” t-shirt, steps out of the truck and starts filling it up. A woman at the next pump is clearly upset about the provocative bumper stickers, and she says to the young man:

“Anti-War = Pro-Terrorism… that’s a terrible message you have on your car, young man. I’m against any type of war, but that doesn’t make me a supporter of terrorism, does it? Do you call yourself an American? Shame on you!”

The young man looks at her in shock. His face turns completely red. Then he takes a deep breath, and says:

“Ma’am, I’m on my way to the hardware store to pick up some stuff. I’m working on a house for Habitat for Humanity. This truck belongs to a friend of a friend who was kind enough to help us out. I didn’t even notice the stickers.”

On hearing that, the woman turned bright red, and apologized profusely.

At that moment she realized:

Things are never what they seem to be. The map is not the territory.

Think of that, when you watch or listen to tonight’s news.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


The Secret Ingredients In My Social Media Sauce

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Promotion, Social Media 21 Comments

Last week I talked about the importance of tailoring your proposal or demo to the needs of the client.

This week I’m taking it one step further. I will show you how you can apply the principle of personalization and customization to your social media presence.

In a moment, I’ll share some cool new tools you can use to spread the news about your business more efficiently and effectively. The end result: more fans for your Facebook page. A better search engine ranking. More hits for your website. Increased business.

Interested?

MISTER SOCIAL

If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I spend a lot of online time “socializing.” I blog, I tweet, I pin, I comment and I participate in discussions for at least an hour a day, if not more.

Now, level with me for a moment because I want your honest opinion.

Am I wasting my time on a magnificent distraction or could this be beneficial for my business?

While you think about that, I’ll tell you how I see it.

Social Media are tools. Tools aren’t inherently good or bad. It depends on how they are used, by whom, to what end and what the ultimate return on investment is.

Professionally speaking, I don’t go online to play games, to save souls or to share what I’m making for dinner. Social Media are part of my “undercover” marketing strategy. If you’ve read my recent article on undercover marketing, you know what I mean by that:

Any activity that helps you find clients and helps clients find you

Here’s my golden rule: You want to spend most of your marketing time and money where your market is. In my case, that’s online.

If you’re in the same boat, it’s wise to:

  • have many ways to be found and drive traffic to your website
  • share and promote compelling content and services
  • create opportunities for clients to get to know you and interact with you

WHY JOIN THE MASSES?

At this point you might say: “I already have a website. Why should I join Google+, Pinterest and Twitter? I have enough on my plate.”

First off, counting on your website to bring in business is a very passive approach. You’re asking the world to come to you and the world is lazy and doesn’t know where to find you. If you don’t make any noise, no one will hear you.

Secondly, most websites aren’t very social. They offer static content and very little opportunity for interaction (more about sites in: Why Your Website Stinks). Search engines hate that, and so do your clients and fans.

Places like Facebook and LinkedIn on the other hand, are buzzing with activity and offer amazing opportunities to proactively build a network, strike up a conversation and -eventually- take people to your store. 

Remember: the purpose of this strategy is not to sell anything. You’re just building relationships. Facebook friends might become clients. Clients become fans. And eventually, your fans will do some of the marketing for you.

Here’s what I really like about Social Media: most of these platforms are (still) FREE! All you need to invest is a bit of time, energy and creativity. The returns could be tremendous.

There’s just one caveat. It’s easy to personalize your own website. It’s a bit more challenging to give generic sites such as Twitter and Facebook a personal and professional touch. In order to do that, let’s take one step back.

DESIGN YOUR IMAGE

First you have to create an overall look for your business in general and your website in particular; something that’s instantaneously recognizable. In my case it’s the color scheme of orange and dark gray, as well as the picture of me with the orange tulips. 

Then you consistently use your look across multiple platforms. 

Nethervoice Gravatar

 

One way of doing that is by creating a Gravatar. That’s short for Globally Recognized Avatar. A Gravatar is an image that follows you from site to site. It appears beside your name when you do things like comment on a blog.

Using a Gravatar reinforces your image, it creates a connection with the reader and it increases your credibility.

Content spammers usually don’t use Gravatars, so, having one identifies you as a genuine, trustworthy contributor. Besides, it makes you look much more personable.

Or would you rather have a Mystery Man picture next to your comment?  

So, how do you create a Gravatar? Click on this link and follow the instructions. It’s quick and it’s easy.

TWITTER

Whenever you go online, this image of me and my orange tulips will pop up. Once people make it to my website (the ultimate goal) they get a feeling of familiarity because they’ve seen it before.

Let’s look at my Twitter profile:

There are two other things I did to customize this profile. I added a hyperlink to my 160 character bio. It leads to one of my demos. Now, my over 2200 Twitter followers can hear what I sound like, and all it takes is one click.

Here’s the second part. Normally, the full link to that demo would look like this:

http://soundcloud.com/paul-strikwerda/paul_strikwerda-international

It wouldn’t fit into my bio, but luckily SoundCloud can give you an abbreviated version that looks like this: http://snd.sc/KyX8oJ. You could also use a service like tiny url or bit.ly to shorten your links. Before you do that, there’s something you should know.

Internet users have become increasingly suspicious of these shortlinks because you can’t really tell where they originate from. With so much harmful and useless crap floating around in cyberspace, people are more inclined to click on links they can identify and trust. 

So, how did I create a shortlink to one of my SoundCloud files that incorporates the url of my website and looks like this?

http://www.nethervoice.com/5oy3

I used a WordPress plugin called Pretty Link. Once installed, it will appear on your dashboard and allow you to generate shortlinks for all kinds of online content. This is what the window of the Pretty Link admin area looks like. It’s pretty self-explanatory. 

SOUNDCLOUD & PINTEREST

As you can see, I am visually and virtually connecting some of the content sharing sites people can find me on: Twitter, SoundCloud and Nethervoice. That way, they can cross-pollinate. It’s all about the sum of the parts.

If you’re not terribly familiar with SoundCloud, it’s kind of a YouTube for audio recordings.

All the embedded demos on this site are stored in SoundCloud. As you can see, the audio tracks are depicted as waveforms and listeners can easily download, distribute and comment. 

You can also use SoundCloud to upload demos to your Facebook page by creating a BandPage. You don’t have to have a band to do that.

It gets even better. Recently, SoundCloud introduced a new feature that makes it possible to “pin” your audio to your Pinterest boards.

Pinterest is one of the fastest growing content sharing sites, allowing you to create and manage image collections. Each collection has it own pinboard and here’s a screenshot of a few my boards:

When you click on a particular board, all the images on that board are displayed. Individual images can be “re-pinned,” liked on Facebook, emailed, embedded and shared on Twitter. But here’s the real magic: once you click on a particular photo, it becomes a link and you are taken to the site the photo is taken from. You can promote blog content by pinning it, YouTube videos as well as your SoundCloud demos. 

Why is all of this relevant? Pinterest is popular and is said to drive more traffic to websites than Twitter.

HubSpot recently published “How to use Pinterest for Business” which will tell you everything you need to know about this exploding content sharing service.

So, are you ready to become a social butterfly, or do you still have reservations?

What have you done to spice up your social media profiles and increase your reach? Share your tips below and be sure to add a link to your website.

I have lots more tricks up my sleeve, and next time I’ll take you behind the scenes of this blog!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Exhibitionists, Voyeurs and Stalkers

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 4 Comments

In the past these were dirty words for dirty people.

Now these very same words can be used to describe the average social media addict.

We like strutting our stuff in public. We want the world to watch us. And we follow the fools who think that tweeting nonsense all day long makes them relevant.

8:05 AM. In line at Starbucks.

8:10 AM. Ordering a tall latte.

8:15 AM. Should have asked for a double shot of espresso.

8:18 AM. Back in my Mercedes. New Jersey Turnpike, here I come!

8:21 AM. In a car accident. Tweeting and drinking coffee don’t go well together.

9:33 AM. Thank goodness this hospital has a Starbucks.

We can laugh about it. We can cry about it, but things like tweeting and texting are changing the way we communicate. Even the way we dress.

If you don’t believe me, you should shop for winter gloves and count the pairs with holes in them or with special patches. Touchscreen gloves, that’s what they are called. Snowstorms, twisters and other natural disasters won’t prevent mankind from texting.

Every single day, two hundred trillion text messages are received in America alone (source). That’s more than an entire year’s worth of regular mail.

Nielsen reported that the average American teen sends 3,339 texts each month. That’s more than six per every hour they’re awake. The girls are beating the boys with 4,050 texts per month, (boys send an average of 2,539 texts). Mind you, these numbers are from 2010!

But it’s not just the kids. Go into any supermarket and count how many times you’ll hear a mother tell her stroller-toddler:

“Not now sweetie. Mommy’s texting.”

8:42 PM. At Trader Joe’s. Should I buy broccoli or cauliflower?

Thanks to all these very important messages, safety is no longer the number one reason for getting a phone. We just love being social, don’t we?

THE FACEBOOK REVOLUTION

In 2010, Facebook beat Google as the most visited site (if we leave out visits to Google-owned YouTube). A year later, Facebook’s U.S. advertising revenue of 2.2 billion dollars had surpassed that of both Google and Yahoo.

It is THE place to hang out and make new friends. It’s that wonderful platform where -in the midst of an economic crisis- everything is always A-Okay. No matter what happens, the show must go on  and we keep on dancing.

Smile people! Always beware of your brand. Heaven forbid we become real and share our fears and failures.

Occasionally, some Facebook friends will vent their frustrations, but overall, a happy-go-lucky attitude seems to be the norm: Do what you love and the money will follow. 🙂 Really?

Many Europeans consider this attitude to be “typically American.” They see the States as a country where people have a hard time accepting failure. We’d rather take a happy pill than deal with our problems. We’re certainly not going to share them on our Facebook Walls. We’ve turned those into advertorials and infomercials:

9:15 AM. Join me for an online seminar where I’ll teach you how not to waste your time on Facebook. Remember the early bird discount!

10:02 AM. Finished an amazing gig with an amazing director. Life is good. It’s great to be back in L.A.

11:46 AM. Jesus rocks! He guided me to book another gig for Playboy Enterprises. Praise the Lord.

11:47 AM. Deuteronomy 5:11

11:48 AM. John 8:7

11:49 AM. Broccoli or cauliflower?

1:15 PM. There’s a new article on the Nethervoice blog. Be the first one to read it before it appears on VoiceOverXtra.

Yep, Facebook is definitely a site we can’t live without. In fact, we need more of those online chatrooms. What did you just tell me? You’re not on Google+ yet? Boy, you’re missing out on something spectacular. It’s great for your business. The other day I saw a video of a dog. Man, that was funny. Every time his owner began playing the guitar, this dog started smiling. No kidding. I’ll send you the link.

3:30 PM. Wasted another 3 minutes watching a dog on YouTube. 

A WINDOW TO THE WORLD?

Look, I am not going to pooh-pooh social media again, but we should bury the idea that these sites are widening our world and increase interpersonal connections.

First of all, we don’t seem to know the difference between socializing and advertising. Socializing is all about connecting with others. Advertising is drawing attention to oneself in order to sell. If that becomes the main purpose of the interaction, it will turn people off. Sooner rather than later.

Secondly, people mainly interact with people they know or agree with. We block the rest and ban them from our circles. And if we don’t do it ourselves, algorithms will make sure that we see what we want to see and hear what we want to hear. Author and activist Eli Pariser calls this the “Filter Bubble.”

Based on our location and on what you and I have searched for and looked at in the past, certain websites (like Facebook) and search engines now use algorithms to predict and select what we’d be interested in right now. They call it “creating a personalized experience.”

YOUR WEB YOUR WAY

If you’re in the market for a new set of wheels and you’ve been browsing a few dealerships, chances are that you’ll be presented with car commercials instead of chewing gum ads. If you’re a fan of the current man in the White House and you keep track of his party’s politics, you won’t be exposed to Tea Party rhetoric. So far, so good, right?

Amazon and Netflix work the same way:

“If you liked this product or that movie, here’s what we recommend you check out next.”

I once made the mistake of tweeting about how much I love my memory foam mattress. Within the hour I was followed by three companies selling mattresses. I wanted to challenge them to a pillow fight.

But wait, there’s more!

If you and I were to enter the same keywords in Google, we would receive different results, based on past online behavior. You will get sites that are more in line with your interests and I will get sites that -according to the secret algorithm- will resonate more with things I prefer. Why is that so terrible?

DIVERSITY IS THE SPICE OF LIFE

I happen to think that it’s good to be exposed to different points of view. If I am only presented with an invisibly edited and uncontrollable stream of information that confirms my own bias, I lose something very important. Eli Pariser puts it this way:

“The Internet is showing us a world it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

We need to see how other people live and we need to hear what other people think. Intellectual discourse is part of a healthy democracy.

If we wish to promote peace, understanding and compassion in the world, we have to open ourselves up to other ideas, other traditions and the very things we don’t comprehend. Things that may make us uncomfortable. Otherwise, stupid stereotypes will go unchallenged and the people on this planet will never overcome their conflicts.

5:15 PM. More of the same is not only boring, it’s dangerous.

5:16 PM. I don’t want some geek at Google to tell me what’s relevant.

Knowledge empowers. Ignorance separates.

NOW WHAT?

It’s time to burst that filter bubble and give us control over the selection of sources of information. I don’t need Yahoo to determine what types of news stories will appear when I switch on my computer.

I want Facebook to be more about sharing and less about selling. I want parents to care more about their children than about their smart phones.

I want drivers to switch off their Blackberries and pay attention to the road. I want more people to be in the moment, instead of describing it on some electronic device.

That’s all great in theory, but here’s the question that’s been haunting me:

Will that ever happen or did we pass a point of no return?

5:24 PM. I am a practitioner of Positive Pessimism.

5:25 PM Hoping for the best. Expecting the worst.

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice


Winning an Audition. Losing the Job.

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 13 Comments

She jokingly called her students “germ bags” and described school parents as “snobby” and “arrogant.”

On Facebook.

As a result, this Massachusetts math and science teacher lost her $92,636-a-year job.

A waitress at a pizza restaurant in uptown Charlotte was fired after making derogatory remarks about customers who’d made her work an hour past the end of her shift and only left a small tip.

On Twitter.

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried lost his job as the voice of the Aflac duck, after the insurance company found out he was tweeting “jokes” about the devastating tsunami in Japan.

Free speech is a wonderful thing, as long as you realize who’s listening. Big Brother is following you. He might even be a

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Boosting Your Business with a Blog

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Internet, Journalism & Media, Promotion, Social Media 15 Comments

Should every (freelance) business have a blog? 

How do you become a successful blogger?

What should you write about? 

How much time does it take? 

Can blogging really increase business? 

How did your blog get over 5,000 subscribers?

Many readers have asked me these questions. That’s why I have written a 33-page guide to blogging.

I’ll take you behind the scenes of my blog, to share my very best blogging secrets with you.

Download your copy at nethervoice.com today.

Happy blogging!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

Be sweet: please retweet!


8 Things I Hate About You

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Internet, Social Media 80 Comments

It’s one of those mornings. I just put on my grumpy pants and I’m not in the mood to write a brilliant article.

I just need to vent about social media.

The non-event that triggered the outburst you’re about to enjoy, is at the top of my list:

1. Robotic requests to connect, befriend, recommend or refer.

You know what I am talking about. Automated messages such as:

“I’d like to add you to my professional network on LinkedIn”.
“You are a person I trust…”

Give me a break! Do I know you? Have we

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Cold Calling is Dead

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing, Journalism & Media, Promotion 41 Comments

DodoIs there a cure for the common cold call, or should we just let it rest in peace?

Before you start reading, let’s do a quick experiment. In a moment I am going to list four things.

As soon as you see number one, simply label your very first response as either positive or negative and move on to the next word.

Are you ready? Here we go:

– Telemarketing

– Cold calling

– Do-Not-Call Registry

– Networking

So, what’s your score?

Do you think your reaction is unique or universal?

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek. Use the buttons to buy the book.

Making Money In Your PJs cover


Dealing with non-English speaking clients

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, International, Internet, Journalism & Media 18 Comments

Thanks to the internet, any business is now a global business. Getting through to non-native English speakers can be a serious challenge. But just because your client knows a few English words, doesn’t mean he understands everything you’re saying. Here’s how not to get lost in translation.

“I have a good one,” I said to my friend from France.

“Why do gun-carrying Americans usually wear short-sleeved shirts?”

“No idea,” he answered. “You tell me.”

“Because they believe in the right to bear arms.”

Silence…

“Sorry, but I don’t get it,” said Philippe. “Explain.”

“Well,” I said, “I can try, but I don’t think it would make the Second Amendment any funnier.”

“Oh, was it supposed to be funny?”

“Well, Philippe, some people think that puns are bad by definition.”

“What’s a pun?” Philippe wanted to know.

Have you ever had a conversation like that? All along you…

Read the rest of this story in my new book. Click here for the paperback version, and click here for a Kindle download.

Click on the cover to access the website and get a sneak peek.

Making Money In Your PJs cover