The headline of this post is the kind that might make my regular readers (a thoughtful and intelligent crowd if ever there was one) feel superior to the great unwashed and uneducated who are suckered by such nonsense; we’ve all seen similar click-bait beckoning us, beguiling us to peek at the peep-show of Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction or inflaming our most self-righteous indignation with a deep-state expose revealed by Hillary’s emails and Obama’s birth certificate. You might despair for my descent into headline hell; it’s not my style … Or is it?
I might be closer to the “clicky and sticky” approach to communication than you, or I, quite expect, when at my best. The power of making your message so catchy, so inspiring or infuriating or funny and mostly unforgettable, is the theme of Joe Romm’s latest book: How to Go Viral and Reach Millions.
As first I began reading, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a rational, logical taxonomy of techniques and their optimization, a la a treatise from the Vulcan Science Academy. But the more I read, the more I realized how wrong I was. It’s not enough to list and illustrate the methods. What is needed is to make his message stick, and by using those very methods he does so, masterfully.
I think it dawned on me when I was reading the chapter about repetition. Yes, he didn’t need to repeat the power of repetition again and again and again; I got it the first time, and I’ve always loved the succinct while despising the repetitive. But in a flash, it hit me that because of the repetition I was doing more than learning the identity of the tool, I was seeing it in action, and it was working because even I, devotee of logic and lover of the laconic, was getting it. To hit the bulls-eye I didn’t just need to know the tool, I needed to feel it, and Joe Romm made that happen by repeating the power of repeating the power of repetition.
And I realized that I had used that very tool to great effect in some of my best posts. When I asked How Stupid does David Rose Think You Are? I not only used that phrase as my title, I included six repetitions of the phrase in the post itself. The result is that it not only stuck, it not only drove the point home, it attracted attention. Media outlets pointed to it, while David Rose and his cadre were unable to resist the temptation to respond, repeatedly, giving me half a dozen more chances to hammer home the point. I wonder if his defenders ever wised up to the fact that their attempts at defense kept the “David Rose thinks you’re stupid” story front-and-center far longer than was good for them. Perhaps they’re just not too bright.
I also came to realize the power of knowing the rhetorical ploys even when you don’t use them. When I greatly embarrassed Anthony Watts his supporters turned out in force to defend him, mainly by changing the subject to something they could criticize. Recognizing the misdirection, I responded to each such comment by beginning: “I quite understand why you want to change the subject, which is: …” Doing so not only laid bare the emptiness of their “defence,” it provided yet another opportunity to repeat the actual subject at hand.
If you’re thinking that those aren’t my best posts, a week ago I would have agreed with you. What I love is hard science, and my best were either educational (after one such post I swelled with pride when a reader likened the style to Asimov) or new science (more than one post has led directly to a publication in the peer-reviewed literature). I now realize that those are what I love to do, but what I most want to do is persaude people to take global warming seriously enough to make it their #1 issue in the voting booth. Correcting temperature time series for exogenous factors and exploring the intricacies of Fourier analysis, don’t do that. As much as they inform and inspire, they do not persuade. I too often feel that I’m preaching to the choir.
Of course I’ll still put hard science here. I can’t resist. But I’m now contemplating how I can actually reach those I don’t usually reach. As distasteful as I find the whole “clicky and sticky” approach, denying its effectiveness only pigeonholes me as purveyor of a “boring” blog which repels those I most want to attract, often by going way over their heads. To paraphrase one of Romm’s chapter titles, don’t bring a surgical scalpel to a gunfight.
If you too yearn to make a real difference, to join in the fight to save creation from being trashed by greedy liars and fools, I say: don’t just buy the book, read it. Pay attention and you’ll learn much more about the details of, as Romm says,
… the Grand Unified Theory of virality, is that from the dawn of language through today, the most viral messages have always been stories told with the figures of speech, which trigger key emotions and stick in the memory.
Don’t just learn the essential idea. Buy the book. Read it. Put it to good use.
Then get others to read it.
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