Hearing the Same Story Twice

One of the great benefits of having friends who are at least twenty years older than oneself is that they have a wealth of life experiences that they are happy to share. This enables one to circumvent the problem in the popular saying:

Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.

Having significantly older friends means that one can benefit from their experience. (The same is true of parents, if one can bring oneself to listen to them.)

But there is a problem with listening to the stories of people who are several decades one’s senior: they tend to tell you each story several times. Contrary to popular belief, this is not because they’re old, but because while stories are memorable, the act of telling them isn’t. In fact, telling a story is actually quite hard to remember because the storyteller’s attention is on the story, not on the telling.

Further, older people simply have far more to remember because they’ve got much fuller lives than young people do. Our culture’s obsession with youth not withstanding, older people have far more friends and acquaintances than young people do. They also have vastly more people’s lives and concerns to keep track of.

And since one very remarkable experience—that is, one good story—will touch on many aspects of life, in conversation with one’s older friends their especially good stories will come up from time to time, and they will probably not remember that they already told you that story three years ago. As I said, the story is far more memorable than the telling of it.

There are, at this point, three options:

  1. Interrupt them to tell them they already told you the story.
  2. Let them tell it then tell them that they already told you the story.
  3. Let them tell the story and appreciate it again.

Of the three, the second is the worst option. It’s basically throwing a gift back in the giver’s face. Don’t do this.

The first can be polite, but it’s tricky to pull off. If the story is recognizable in its first few words, you can probably find a pause in the first sentence (or so) to interrupt and ask if it’s the story you’re thinking of—and bear in mind you might be wrong because sometimes different stories sound similar. If it is, then tell the friend how much you like the story. The danger of interrupting them is that you might seem ungrateful or unappreciative of the wisdom being conveyed and telling them how much you appreciate the story—not merely appreciated it in the past, but kept its lessons with you—will ensure that the proper reaction of gratitude is conveyed.

The third option is often the best option. First, because it is the most grateful option. Second, because the same story is often told with different details filled in, so one gets a more complete version of it by putting the two together. Third, because one will probably learn new things from hearing it again. And fourth, because the impossibility of perpetual novelty (while maintaining quality), happiness depends upon the ability to appreciate good things one has already experienced. Hearing a good story again is excellent practice at this.

One should not lie and pretend that one has not heard the story before, but it almost never comes up, and if it doesn’t, there’s no need to bring it up.

And you’re vastly better off having heard the same story twice than not at all.

How To Get Your Posts Shared By Big Names

This is a post for people with small blog readerships who want to get links from people who have big followings. It will probably apply to other long-form media like YouTube videos and possibly even Facebook posts, but won’t apply to short-form media like Twitter. Also, I should mention that I’m talking about people who are big because of what they make. I have no idea how to get Kim Kardashian to notice blog posts.

If you’re wondering what my credentials are for making this post, I’ll start with the recent ones:

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In case you don’t know him, Ed Latimore has (as of the time of this writing) about 40,000 Twitter followers. Recently he linked to How To End Conversations and Acting Confident vs. Being a Jerk.

In the bigger picture, I’ve been blogging on and off for twenty years. In that time I’ve had novels of mine mentioned by Mark Shea, I’ve had blogs linked to by The Volokh Conspiracy (several hosts ago), Steven Den Beste (back when he was a big-name political blogger, before he switched to anime blogging, may he rest in peace), and others. Probably the biggest link I got was from Slashdot. (That one generated around  35,000 page views, 16 years ago.)

Having (hopefully) established my credentials, much of what I’m going to talk about is actually basic human psychology. The most effective way to get anybody to do what you want is to align your interests with theirs. So the best way to get someone with a big following to link to your blog post is to write a blog post where linking to it benefits them. This makes the most important thing to consider:

What People With Followings Want

The only way to get a large following is to give a lot of people a meaningful amount of value. (Whether it is given for free or for a fee is irrelevant.) Loyalty is, however, a rare thing among fallen humanity and so one has to keep giving new value. This may be clearer if it’s considered from the reader’s perspective: if someone spends too much time writing what you don’t want to read, you’ll stop reading them. This creates, for the person will the big following, two complementary incentives:

  1. A constant need for value to give to their readers
  2. A strong disincentive to publish anything which is not valuable to their readers

The techniques for getting blog posts shared by big names all follow from these two elementary forces. (It doesn’t hurt to know how readers behave, too.)

The Basics

The single best way to get your blog post shared by someone is to write a blog post which provides real value to the person’s readers. This can work if it’s a large subset of his readers but it’s better if it’s all of his readers. And the best way to do that is for the post to be the sort of post which that person would write. Now, I don’t mean that you should ape his style. In fact, that’s probably a bad idea. But your post should be on a subject which he might write about and from a viewpoint which is at least compatible with his. Also, critically, it’s got to be a post he hasn’t already written.

That’s not to say that it can’t be on the same subject that he’s written about before, but if it is, it’s got to be different: a different take, a different angle, some additional background information which augments or clarifies his point—in short, your post has to add something to his. If it doesn’t, what’s the point in him sharing it?

A follow-up post to the big name’s post can be a good approach to getting shared. Saving the big name the trouble of writing the followup can provide a lot of value. (This is especially true if he’d have had to do research to write it.)

A funny take on a serious post, or a serious take on a funny post can also both work as follow-ups. If you’re going the route of being funny, make sure that your sense of humor will make the writer laugh out loud. If you’re going serious, a good bet is to be an answer to all the nit-pickers on the writer’s humorous post, saving him the tedium of replying and/or explaining.

Subjects that the writer with the big following haven’t written about also work, depending on why he hasn’t written about them. Good reasons are: he hasn’t gotten around to it and writing it would require research he didn’t feel like doing. Bad reasons include: he isn’t interested, he thinks it will turn off readers, it’s off-brand.

Merely tangential relation to the writer’s main subject probably won’t cut it. For example, it’s probably a waste of everyone’s time to tell a Paleo blogger about your post on “how to hook up with hot paleo chicks”.  Even if your technique is to carry around a clear acrylic cooler packed with ice and raw steaks, your primary topic is picking up women, not eating paleo. By contrast, “how to eat paleo on a date without being a nuissance” would be primarily about eating paleo. Specifically, it would be about navigating the difficulties of the modern food environment without sacrificing paleo goals. And if you’re pitching a paleo blogger, posts about changing the oil in your car are right out.

Don’t Waste People’s Time

If your post is not likely to be of interest to a big name’s readers/viewers/followers/etc, don’t waste their time asking them to share it. That’s just asking for free advertising. It wouldn’t even do you any good if they did share it—their followers won’t click on it. If you follow someone because you love their bass fishing blog, if they publish a link to someone’s post on how to sell afghans on ebay it will just be noise to you. And people who’ve spent more than a few months on the internet are very good at filtering out noise. At the very least, if you insist on doing this, make the subject line, “I want free advertising for no reason”.

Joking aside, for most people the reason they do this is because their hope has clouded their judgment. Try not to do this. Hope is important, but other people’s time being finite means that hope should always be tempered by realism. There will be other opportunities.

Present Your Material Politely

This isn’t hard, but the big thing is to avoid looking like what you’re not. Everyone gets spam asking them for things; when you are offering value to someone you want to be careful to avoid looking like spam. The best way to do this is to avoid asking for things. I don’t mean to be passive aggressive, just to trust the person you’re talking to to run their own blog/channel/twitter/whatever. They can figure out on their own that if something is valuable to their readers, they should share it. So trust them that they know that.

Just be simple and direct. If you think they would like it, then say so. “I’ve got a blog post on [subject] which I think you might like: [link] [excerpt]”. If you think that it’s primarily their readers who would be interested, then say that. “I’ve got a blog post on [subject] which I think your readers might find interesting: [link] [excerpt]”.

A brief excerpt is valuable because it will give the person a sense of the post’s quality in a few seconds. This lets them judge whether reading the post will be a good use of their time. Unfortunately on the internet, a lot of people are wrong about how valuable their posts are and while I trust that the reader’s post is one of the valuable ones, the big name can’t. That means that they have to spend time to find out that it is valuable. An excerpt lets them do that in a few seconds, rather than having to judge whether to invest a minute or two. That may not sound like a lot if your inbox is empty, but when you’ve got thirty unread messages, it can feel like quite a lot.

More Advanced

You’ll note from the basics section that familiarity with the big name you’re hoping to get linked by is important. The best way to achieve this, of course, is to be a regular reader. There is a world of difference between how well a regular reader knows a writer’s interests and how well someone who’s read an article or two does. (Though even the article or two is a world again of difference with someone who’s read nothing by a writer.)

There’s another big advantage to being a regular reader: you’re probably going to end up being a regular commenter. Whatever the medium, almost all writers have some sort of avenue of feedback available. If you read someone regularly you will naturally use it on occasion. As long as you are doing so from a consistent persona (ideally one that has a real picture of your face, since human beings key recognition off of faces), you will start to build up an acquaintanceship.  In addition to having a bit of a human connection—which is valuable in its own right—this will automatically elevate your request that the big name check out your blog post in their attention. Obviously this can backfire if you get annoying, so be careful to only send them your best stuff, but this is a huge leg up on getting their attention.

You’ll probably also benefit from all the exposure to the writing (etc.) of people with large followings, including becoming a better writer yourself.

Trying to Get Noticed by Really Really Popular People

First, it’s important to be realistic. This is extremely hard. There are actually several reasons for this, but the numbers are enough on their own: if someone has a million readers, if 0.1% of the readers contact the writer per month, that’s 33 people per day. Thirty three strangers is a lot of people to talk to in a day, on top of trying to eat, get to the gym, do one’s job, and possibly interact with friends and family.

But things are much worse than that. When someone is that popular, your competition for their attention will not be entirely made up of incompetent people. Other people will be offering value too. That means that there’s a lot to pick through, and that doesn’t just take time. It takes emotional energy. Some of the work required in meeting strangers is involved in reading the words of a stranger; it takes some amount of adaptation to their style, their turns of phrase, their way of thinking, etc. This is one reason why newspapers traditionally had standardized voices, diction, etc.—by making the writers interchangeable, reading a newspaper requires significantly less effort on the part of the reader. The great variety of voices offered by blogging (etc) allow us to find people we enjoy far more, but it requires a great deal more energy to sift through. Just consider how many new bloggers you read a day—it’s not many, at least on a typical day. There’s no reason to expect it to be easier for more popular people.

None of which is to say that it is impossible, just that maintaining realism is especially important. You will of course want a title which is obviously interesting (but not click-bait), and a great pull-quote from the article to go with the title. But more than this, you also need some way of getting your post noticed. And the best way to do that is to get it noticed by smaller venues so that the really really popular person sees it all over the place. This was the technique I used to get my article linked by Slashdot. It was a different take on a hot topic of the day, and I submitted it to many smaller blogs and news sites before I submitted it to Slashdot. When the article went up on Slashdot, they weren’t even that enthusiastic about my post but noted that they were getting told about it by everyone. There was unquestionably an aspect of it being the right-place/right-time since my post hooked into a news story which was exploding at the moment. I wouldn’t have been able to get an article linked which wasn’t satisfying such a large, though short-lived, demand. But I also wouldn’t have been able to get it linked if it weren’t for all the smaller sites linking to it and making it something people were talking about. And this plays into the numbers I mentioned above. If all thirty-three people in a day are telling the big writer the same thing, he’ll probably notice.

Be Realistic About the Results

And finally, if you do manage to get your post shared by someone with a big following, be realistic about the results. It’s great for your blog post that it got a lot of traffic, but this probably won’t have much of an effect on your blog itself. The number of people who will check out more of your blog varies with a lot of factors, but unless something is very well aligned, expect the number of readers you’ve gained to be below 1% of the number who visited. Again, just think about your own reading habits: how many blogs do you follow links to, versus how many do you become a long-term reader of?

This is, by the way, another reason to focus on making the blog post high quality. If you get linked by someone with a large following, this blog post is probably going to be the only thing of yours most people who read the post will ever read. So this is your one chance to give them something of value to carry with them for the rest of their life. Make your shot count.