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Oprah: “Know Your Viewer”

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This morning, MSNBC was on the television in the background as I was doing some work, and Oprah was one of the guests on Morning Joe. I wasn’t really paying attention to the interview, but I did catch something that she said that made me want to shout, “YES!” She was talking about why she became so successful and why she has been so successful for so long. I didn’t jot it down word for word, but it essentially boiled down to this:

Oprah is her audience. More so than even her produces or other staff members, she is able to put herself in the shoes of her audience members, so she can give them what they want. Above all, if you want to be successful, you have to know your viewer.

Pretty good advice, right? I would go a step farther and say that you have to be your viewer (or, in the case of bloggers, reader). If you wouldn’t read your content, if you find it boring and repetitive, if you are left with feelings of “meh,” why should anyone else care?

For a long time, one of the mistakes I made as a blogger was that I tried to emulate other successful blogs, even though these were blogs that I didn’t necessarily read for whatever reason. I wrote posts that were certainly informative and sometimes even interesting, but they lacked passion and style – and that showed. I wasn’t interested in being a member of my own community, so others weren’t really interested either.

So I took a good look at my blog and thought, “What would I want to read if I came to this blog?” And I started writing that, even though it was personal and goofy and unlike what a lot of the more successful blogs in my niche were doing, I’ve seen more growth since taking this approach in a month than I had in the six months prior combined. I became a member of my audience, and suddenly, I actually had an audience.

I think this can be difficult to do, since what is most relevant in our own lives is…well…our own lives. Sometimes, bloggers tend to get too personal. This is where I think Oprah reigns it in well where other talk show hosts *cough*Tyra-Banks*cough* fail. Oprah does tell her personal story when relevant, but she doesn’t lose site of the point of her show – to help the viewer and guests. She doesn’t just get up on a stage every day and talk about her herself. If you want to do that, have a hobby blog. But on your tech blog or your political blog or your fashion blog, we don’t need to know that your kid is sick and you’re planning on having tuna for lunch. Otherwise, you may be a member of your own audience, but you’ll be the only member!

Still, it pays to take some time to read your own blog and ask yourself this question: “If I didn’t write this, would I be a regular reader?” It’s a hard question to answer sometimes, because we don’t want to admit that the answer is no. Think about how successful Oprah has become, though. She might not be a blogger, but she certainly understands community and building a following. If her biggest piece of advice for success is “become a member of your own audience,” I’m going to take it!

Photo: Alan Light

Did Ashton Kutcher Exploit The Children Of Africa?

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While searching for other blog posts about the recent hubub over the hypothetical possibility of Oprah Keynoting BlogWorld this year, I came across another post that stunned me and brought a whole new perspective to Kutcher’s million Twitter follower quest that I hadn’t considered before.

Blogger Clement Nthambazale Nyirenda has a post accusing Kutcher of exploiting the children of Africa in order to be the first person with one million followers on Twitter.

You really need to read the entire post before commenting, but I would sincerely appreciate your comments when you have read Clement’s post as well as this one.  For now, here is an excerpt:

Ashton Kutcher, an American based actor, is trying to use the Malaria problem in Africa in his quest for personal glory.  It all started when Ashton Kutcher challenged CNN for  Twitter supremacy. As I write, the online community is abuzz with Ashton’s competition with CNN to see who can be the first to attract 1 million followers on Twitter. Ashton has vowed to donate 10,000 mosquito nets to at-risk families in Africa on World Malaria Day if he wins the race by April 25. As a result, many people on twitter are following him simply because they think that by so doing, they are helping in the fight against Malaria in Africa.

I, for one, am completely against Kutcher’s motive. Why should I follow him on twitter for him to release the nets to folks who are suffering in Africa? This guy wants to use Africa for his own fame.

After reading the post, it took a moment for everything to sink in. Did Kutcher exploit the children of Africa?

I quickly concluded it was quite the opposite and wrote a long comment on Clement’s blog. At the end of that process it brought me back to the hue and cry from the Twitterati that Kutcher’s drive to one million was a sham and against everything Social Media stood for.  That still doesn’t sit right with me. I have said before and I will say it again, I think @aplusk absolutely gets new media and certainly as well as any celebrity who has crossed over into our world.

Yes, his one million followers dwarfs one of Twitters earliest adopters and champions  Robert Scoble (82,000 followers). It makes Jason Calacanis’ drive to become King of Twitter look like childs play.

But didn’t Kutcher just prove something that many have been saying about Twitter and Social Media all along?

Didn’t Kutcher just leverage his celebrity and social media to raise awareness and money for a worthy cause?

Isn’t it very similar to what @amanda did with the amazing Twestival event, but on an entirely different scale?

Starting as one person’s idea, Twestival involved tens of thousands of people and raised over $250,000 for worthy causes.

Kutcher’s drive to a million Twitter followers started as one person’s idea and raised $300,000 with just two checks. One from him and one from Oprah Winfrey. It also involved well over a million people in the social media space and millions more in the traditional media world. The CNN coverage alone was immeasurable to Malaria No More.

The cover of their website says it all:

marlianomorescreengrab2

Some are saying celebrities’ new found fondness for social media will ruin it, but they are simply wrong. It will certainly bring a new set of problems that we will have to find ways of dealing with. There will be clueless celebs just as there are clueless businesses and other clueless people who try to use these tools the wrong way. As Beth Harte suggests, we should call them on it when they do.

But the biggest take away from all of this is that celebrities’ adoption of social media is a sign of the beginning of the beginning of new media reaching its full potential.  Adam Kmiec does an excellent job pointing out the pluses and minuses of the mainstreaming of new media much better than I can here.

Bottom line.  The change we have all been espousing for so long is finally coming. This is a good thing for all of us.

Here is the comment I left on Clement’s blog:

Wow your post may have been well intentioned Clement but you couldn’t be further from the mark.

Ashton Kutcher doesn’t need to donate 10,000 nets to Africa or $1 to anyone to raise publicity for his goal of reaching one million followers on Twitter. He could have done that without you, without the nets or anyone else.

Instead what he chose to do was use the occasion to make a very significant donation to a very worthy cause. You should be very grateful he chose a cause close to your heart instead of someone else or none at all.

Furthermore he just raised awareness of this problem to not just the one million people who followed him on Twitter, but the millions more who watched him on Oprah and all the publicity raised on CNN and every other news outlet in the world that covered this story.

This may have been the biggest publicity this cause has ever received and it is all due to Ashton Kutcher. Yes he could have given the money to buy these nets without ever mentioning it. He could have given the money anonymously. He certainly comes off as the type of guy who would do just that. But if he did that what would you have? 10,000-nets. No millions of other people now being aware of this problem and donating $5 and $10 here and there. No world wide publicity raising awareness of this issue.

What Ashton Kutcher did for the children of Africa was far greater in value than just give money; he gave you something very few people in the world could.

And what is his reward for doing so? You didn’t just look this gift horse in the mouth, you spit in his face.

I humbly suggest that you seriously rethink your position.

What’s your take?

Two people I greatly admire have weighed in on the implications of the great Twitter Race.

Jeremy Owyang’s take here.

Brian Solis may have the best post on this seismic shift yet.

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