The Best Social Media Links This Week (And Some Others)

by Paul Balcerak in

I don't know what I'm calling this weekly newsletter-style thing. I might just change it every week. If you want it all packaged up, click the Newsletter link.

1. Social media news you can use

LinkedIn has a new product called Elevate, aimed at getting employees to share company content. // Twitter's rolling out a new home page. // Hootsuite is partnering with Tagboard to make it easier to display grouped social media posts. // Foursquare is launching Pinpoint, a "cross-platform, location-based ad targeting" system. // Path has a new app called Kong that lets you create animated GIFs out of your selfies and other photos.

2. Hacks, strategy, and deep dives

Chris Teso writes about how customer loyalty is the next big focus area for brands on social media, and I couldn't agree more. // Buffer maintains one of the best company blogs on the internet, so this post from Kevan Lee, about his blogging process, is a really interesting read. // If you're into having a somewhat-intimate experience with strangers, Periscope/Meerkat might be for you; maybe not so much if your goal is to get content shared. // Sizing social media images is a constant, changing pain-in-the-ass, but Donna Moritz shows how you only really need three layouts to cover all your networks. // In the midst of a lengthy post about the best way to share a link on Facebook, Jon Loomer argues that the best thing is to just quit trying to game the system:

Let’s stop overcomplicating this.

If you want to start a conversation, share a text update.

If you want to share a great photo, just share that great photo.

If you want to drive traffic to your website, share that link the way Facebook intended.
— Jon Loomer

3. The best Snapchat explainer I've seen

This is a great SlideShare deck, and you should share it with anyone in your organization who's still struggling to understand how Snapchat works, and why it's so great:

4. Other great stuff

Nathan Kontny has a great post, "Constrained," about why the people who don't have unlimited resources are often the ones who put out some of the best work. I wrote a similar post last year for Curator.


On a somewhat related note, I love this quote:


This week will forever be remembered as that time I wrote a tweet for a client and then paid Riddick Bowe $20 to publish it.


Lastly, I'm a Trekkie at heart, but if this new Star Wars trailer doesn't excite you, you should probably have your pulse checked.

Why I Don't Worry About What I Don't Know

by Paul Balcerak in

That headline is a lie. Of course I worry about what I don't know, because that's human nature, and everyone does. 

But I shouldn't, and you shouldn't, and here's why:

Like I said, everyone's worried about the same thing. Everyone's making things up as they go along; some just do it more confidently than others. 

How A Dallas Sportscaster Makes Viral Internet Content

by Paul Balcerak in ,

Grantland has an extensive profile on Dale Hansen, who you may remember from his local-news-segments-turned-viral-videos on everything from gay rights to racism. It's fascinating, particularly since it points out that Hansen represents a kind of coming-full-circle for old and new media: 

The Hansen content mix — liberal smackdowns, brave confessionals, kids in peril — may sound strangely familiar. That’s because it’s exactly the kind of sharable content that populates the “soft” sections of sites like BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, and Upworthy. Not coincidentally, those are the sites that discovered Hansen, aggregated him as they would Jon Stewart or John Oliver, and delivered him to a new audience.

A land bridge had formed between old and new media. What Hansen offered the web was gravitas and gray hair. His friend Mike Fisher noted that some measure of Hansen’s fame is based on a mistaken impression that he’s a former tea partier rather than a liberal whose heart has bled since the ’60s. Hansen also has a knack for taking a position that just about every lefty agrees with and stating its case in pithy, local-news style — like Stewart with less sarcasm. “He says what people are thinking, but it’s much more eloquent and gets to the point quicker,” said George Riba, a former Channel 8 sports reporter.

Trying to imitate what Dale Hansen is doing isn't going to save local news or turn it into destination viewing for younger audiences. But his no-bullshit approach is refreshing, and it at least makes you wonder what it would be like if someone like him did exist at the anchor desk.

Edward Snowden On How To Generate A Good Password

by Paul Balcerak in

If you're reading this, odds are your passwords suck. No judgment—most people's passwords suck! But don't let that become an excuse for your passwords to continue to suck.

In this video, Edward Snowden gives John Oliver some great advice on generating a good password. Specifically, don't try to think up a good password so much as a good pass-phrase. Longer passwords, as well as strings of text that aren't real words, can help protect your accounts.

I mostly use LastPass for passwords these days, but there are some other tricks you can use, too:

Assign your passwords to people or objects in a room. Think of the people at your office. Or your family that you live with. Or maybe your high school chemistry class. Any time you need a password, think up a phrase that's associated with one of those people and use it. Then when you need to remember that password, mentally go into that room to recall who's associated with what (e.g. Tim starts with T; T = Twitter).

Use your imaginary friends. I find this particularly helpful when I'm asked to create security questions. A lot of sites will force you to use pre-built security questions like "What's your mother's maiden name?" or "What's your birthday?" But those can actually be pretty easy questions to hack. For the sites that let you create your own security questions, type in things that only you would know.

Use a recurring format for special characters. Adding in symbols ($%^&*@!) is a good way to beef up your password security. But you can also confuse the hell out of yourself by forgetting what symbols went where in a password (like $e@ttl3Mar1ner$). Instead, set up a format you'll remember, like first word random characters, underscore, second word regular letters:


That way, you're less apt to forget if that @ symbol goes in the first "A," the second "A" or both "As."

'If You Do The Work, You Progress'

by Paul Balcerak in

There is, with any great artist, a little manic-ness and insanity. Tropic of Cancer is one of my favorite books. And [author] Henry Miller had this work ethic, where he would get out of bed every day and force himself to write five pages. It taught me that if you do the work, you progress.
— Frances Bean Cobain

This is an interesting Q&A with Kurt Cobain's daughter. I'm taking this quote a bit out of context—she goes on to talk about how what the public wanted from Kurt exceeded his own ambition—but I thought this portion was good, nevertheless.

Mariners Opening Day 2015 In Tweets

by Paul Balcerak in

Twitter fascinates me. I listened to the Mariners Opening Day game yesterday on internet-streaming radio, and watched the game a few seconds faster on Twitter. It was a great way to take in the game because I enjoyed all the nostalgic qualities of listening to a game on the radio, as well as the DVR-like conveniences of having an army of people capture all the game's little moments for me.

Just for fun, I thought I'd share all the tweets I favorited/curated.

I had fun following the game like this, and I might start doing these regularly, at least for afternoon games. If you want to follow along, subscribe to my Mariners list on Twitter—there are a lot of good sportswriters and observers on there.

The End Of 'Serial'

by Paul Balcerak in

I just listened to the last episode of Serial, and… OK.

I was entertained by it, though admittedly I zoned out during portions of certain episodes. All in all, it was a good show. 

My lack of enthusiasm at the end is probably shared by a lot of people: It didn’t solve anything or arrive at any conclusions. It didn’t do anything. (Well, almost.) At the end, it’s just: OK, we looked really closely at this one case. 

As frustrating as it is for people who listened to the show and hung on every episode, it’s got to be even more frustrating for the people affected by the actual case, who maybe saw this as some glimmer of hope that things would be solved, once and for all. That’s a-whole-nother post, but still.

What I am hugely satisfied by is the format. I want more serialized podcasts—beyond just true-crime stuff—and I think there are a lot of topics that would be valuable to cover:

  • Huge events in history, like, say, World War II.
  • Complicated or confusing topics, like the Affordable Care Act.
  • “Behind-the-scenes” tellings of semi-recent events, like a presidential campaign.

Explanatory journalism, in a sense. I feel like there’s a wider appetite for that. Maybe it’s just me, or maybe what I’m really craving are books-on-tape, and I just haven’t discovered those yet. But it seems like that’s essentially what Serial was, and something about it obviously appealed to a lot of people.

ClickHole Is More BuzzFeed-y Than You Think

by Paul Balcerak in

Yesterday, BuzzFeed announced it had hired ClickHole associate editor Daniel Kibblesmith. Reactions were basically, "Whelp, this is what the Internet has come to."

I thought Summer Anne Burton had the best reaction, though, because from the outset, ClickHole has very obviously been a loving parody of BuzzFeed.

What's the distinction? I'm going to be forced to cite an article I read a long time ago that I don't remember the link to (maybe it was Grantland, or The A.V. Club). The difference is the difference between a movie like Spaceballs and a movie like Date Movie. The former parodies Star Wars and science fiction in general, but if you strip away the jokes, it still works as a sci-fi action movie. Mel Brooks knew his source material and loved it. In contrast, Date Movie is basically just a mash of romantic comedy clichés and pop-culture references—it's making fun of the genre, not having fun with it.

Put another way, it's the difference between laughing with someone, and laughing at them.

What makes ClickHole so funny isn't just that it so perfectly captures the BuzzFeed style and tweaks it just enough to make it absurd; it's that it so perfectly captures the kind of stuff we the audience love to click on. When we read ClickHole, we're not just laughing at BuzzFeed; we're laughing at our own behavior. 

That makes the two sites a weirdly effective one-two punch. Go to BuzzFeed to read a listicle of stuff you totally do! then head over to ClickHole to laugh about how that listicle is totally the type of thing you get suckered into clicking on!

Point being, what Summer Anne said: These sites are doing very similar things, and it shouldn't be a huge surprise to see them trade talent. Now, what would be interesting would be to see a mainstream media site poach talent from one of these two places.

What If The Star Wars Prequels Were A Long Con For 'The Force Awakens'?

by Paul Balcerak in

What George Lucas did with Star Wars is unlike anything almost anyone has done with any other franchise. With less than 10 hours of movie footage, stretched out over seven years, he created a franchise that will last probably at least until our kids have kids, and maybe beyond.

The prequels are almost universally hated—by critics—but I suspect there's a generation of now young adults who love them and can't wait to get more. And I can't help but wonder if maybe that's what George Lucas had in mind all along. 

Say what you will about his scriptwriting abilities; he's always been a hell of a marketer. He obviously made the prequels for kids (at least the first two, which is probably why they're so hated). That may have rubbed some of the grown-up nerds the wrong way, but George Lucas clearly understood something they maybe didn't consider: For Star Wars to survive, it needed to endear itself to a new generation.

Sure, the original trilogy is great—who can't appreciate it? But for an 8-year-old, who by the late 90s had probably already seen Jurassic Park and maybe even The Matrix, the original trilogy would've been slow-moving and technologically dated. 

Bring on the prequels, with their things-everywhere backgrounds, seizure-inducing lightsaber fights, and goofy characters, and you've got something that appeals to a new era of fans while still (somewhat) pleasing the base that made Star Wars big to begin with. In that sense, making the prequels wasn't unlike running a presidential campaign, with respect to the level of marketing savvy needed to pull it off successfully. 

Flash forward to now, and the trailer above: There's no possible way this movie doesn't make an absolute shitload of money. Star Wars is firing on all cylinders, because you've got two things happening simultaneously: (1) Die-hard fans are finally getting the second trilogy they actually always wanted, and (2) The kids who grew up on the prequels and genuinely loved them are getting to see a whole new Star Wars on the big screen.

It's like a meta-Avengers team-up—they're teaming up audiences instead of characters. 

Maybe I'm reading too much into this. Maybe George Lucas is just a guy who likes to make movies. (Yes, the prequels made tons of money and told a story he always wanted to tell.) But I think it can be both, and it wouldn't surprise me if it was.

What Parents Can Do To Understand Their Kids' Social Media Better

by Paul Balcerak in has an interesting post this week on how some girls are using Instagram as a communication backchannel. It's a great read, if one that's likely to freak you out:

[Instagram is] a way for tweens and teens to find out what their peers really think of them (Was that comment about my dress a joke or did she mean it?), who likes you (Why wasn’t I included in that picture?), even how many people like them (if you post and get too few likes, you might feel “Instashame,” as one young woman calls it). They can obsess over their friendships, monitoring social ups and downs in extreme detail. They can strategically post at high traffic hours when they know peers are killing time between homework assignments. “Likes,” after all, feel like a public, tangible, reassuring statement of a girl’s social status.
— Rachel Simmons,

It's scary, right?

The reaction I often hear from parents of young kids—usually kids who haven't started using social yet—is that stuff like this is "terrifying" or "effed up." Honestly, I've said that stuff myself.

And seriously: Who wouldn't feel lucky to not have to grow up with this stuff? Think about all the stresses you had at school back in the day: getting bullied; not fitting in; feeling alone. This generation of kids has to deal with all that following them home on social media.

Don't get scared; get educated

The answer for parents isn't to get freaked out, though. Fear is almost always rooted in what we don't know. The best thing you can do for your kids is to get educated.

The best way to do that is to use these social networks that they're on. Yeah, it sounds weird, and honestly kind of a pain in the ass. But there are serious mental health issues at stake here. And these are your kids.

How to learn a social network

I am on a ton of social networks because I need to be for work. It can be everything from fun, to frustrating, to boring, and it's not just as easy as signing up. Here are a few tricks I've used to get the most out of the testing process:

  1. Find a buddy (or three)—this is the most important thing. Social networks are useless if you aren't socializing, and it can be difficult and awkward to have conversations with people you don't know. If you have someone—maybe another parent—who's riding shotgun with you and using the network at the same time, you'll at least have one person to talk to while you learn all the ins and outs.
  2. Delete all your other social apps. This is a bit crazy, but it's a good way to focus your attention. If you have iOS, at least, you should be able to delete an app and the re-download it from the cloud for free (if it cost anything in the first place).
  3. Set aside time to learn it. Way back in the day, my wife was a little resistant to Twitter. She got hooked on it during a week when we were snowed in at our apartment and there wasn't much to do. Since then, I've always thought that was a great strategy: Set aside a time—say, a week—to test out the network, and then schedule time each day during that week when you'll use it. Treat it like homework, and take it seriously.

No guarantees, but...

Even if you do all this, you may not come away with any deep understanding of the network your kids are on. That's OK. A week of dedicated experimentation should at least familiarize you with things like nomenclature and functionality. (By the way, parents, if you ever run into a term you don't understand on a social network, you really should have Urban Dictionary bookmarked.)

The value in that is that you'll be able to converse with your kids about whatever networks they're using without sounding oblivious or insensitive. You may not sound like an authority on the topic, but you'll at least know what you're talking about, which will put you one step closer to being someone they feel like they can talk to.