Most of us have a tendency to overthink. We spend a lot of time reading about the latest and greatest–stories of amazing feats of expertise and endurance, tales of unparalleled cleverness and creativity–and it makes us strain and struggle to come up with the next great thing. We all want to arrive with dignity after having invented an elegant new solution, to have raised the standard for civilized discourse, to leave behind a corpus of groundbreaking work.
It’s time to get over it. It is better to have produced and produced junk than never to have produced at all.
Social media not only isn’t brain surgery, it’s hardly ever surgery at all. I’m amazed all the time by how often refinement not only doesn’t add to social media but actually takes away from it. This isn’t a post encouraging you to be stupid, just one encouraging you to remember your audience, to be conscious of your strategy, and not to overlook potential clients, readers or customers.
In business, we might talk about this as a generalist strategy as opposed to one of differentiation or one that focuses on the broad market as opposed to particular segments (particularly upper-end segments). You may use either or both or neither. The important point from my perspective is that you’re choosing consciously and that you’re being as simple as possible for your audience.
This is easier to see with analogies. I’ve written before about Borders and Hastings and why aiming at the lowest common denominator seems to be working for Hastings while targeting seems to be failing for Borders. Applications for smartphones are another great place to see it in action. Why do tip calculators continue to sell? Anyone with a calculator can figure it out (actually, anyone can figure it out without a calculator, but hey). Tip calculators sell, though, as do applications that, um, simulate bodily functions. The point is: none of these things requires any special kind of genius. Are you passing up something that might be “beneath you”?
In the online realm, let’s consider a couple of disparate examples: LOLCats, Einstein Bagels and Chris Voss.
First up, LOLCats. When this first began (it’s almost hard to remember a time before it, now), it seemed like the most idiotic thing of all time. It may be. And yet, it’s funny. It’s a little bit like Seinfeld: the premise is such that we never tire of it. The lessons from LOLCats are endless:
- Everyone knows a cat, and everyone likes to laugh.
- The creators of LOLCats didn’t set out to start a cultural phenomenon. They were just having fun.
- The cats are a platform–everyone can use the meme to his or her own advantage.
(Incidentally, as a great example of how the platform enables others, check out the witty Adam Koford. Adam has built up a great body of very funny work built on the LOLCats idea. He, too, though, could have missed that if he’d been stuck on “highbrow” ideas of art.)
Chris Voss, meanwhile, is one of my favorite examples of keeping things simple (and if you think that means “simplistic,” then your loss, because Chris will eat your lunch). When he sits down to record something for his show, you get the sense that the camera just happened to start then–it doesn’t feel scripted or overly thought out (e.g., his post on Facebook privacy). He also reveals an important point about keeping it simple: He can record posts like those because he’s just talking about what he knows. He spends all day swimming in social media–it’s easy and natural for him to talk about it. The lessons from Chris are also numerous:
- Focus on what you know.
- Keep talking. As Chris told me once on the phone, “it’s a numbers game.” Content wins. Keep producing.
- Don’t be dumb–but be simple. Use terms that people understand.
Finally, consider the case of Einstein Bros Bagels. When they wanted to get more fans on Facebook, they didn’t create an intricate strategy predicated upon great mysteries and produced by teams of secret Himalayan scribes–they gave away a bagel to anyone who would fan their page. Today they have more than 611,000 fans.
Part of the lesson here for us is that we need to turn to what we know and play to our strengths (a fancier term might be “core competencies“). Lest you think that “just keep going” sounds like dumb advice, consider a couple of facts: First, when Paul Allen was in Albuquerque once, I heard him describe the early Microsoft team as being willing to “eat lots of pizzas”–that is to say, it was willing to stay up all night working on problems. And Einstein once said, “It’s not that I’m so smart , it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” Malcom Gladwell suggested in Outliers that mastering a craft takes at least 10,000 hours of practice. There’s lots of evidence that volume matters. Great artists don’t just pop out a masterpiece–they work laboriously on lots and lots of throwaways before they reach the apex.
This post has been all over the place. What it boils down to is this: Get to work. Make the work as good as you can, build it on your unique qualities, but get it done. And don’t forget that the biggest ideas are the simplest–you can spend forever in analysis paralysis trying to get to the next level when the level you’re at could have everything you’re looking for. Got a great gimmick? (I’m going to write a post about what we can learn from circuses.) Got an idea that isn’t much more than a single web page? Are you making creme brulee when cupcakes are what people are really looking for?
How are you keeping it simple?