Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Why I Curate Content on the Improvised Star Trek Facebook Page

The other night I was at a party and got into a discussion with a local small business owner about Facebook. This fellow was lamenting that the organic reach for posts on his business's Facebook page had been getting smaller and smaller. He told me that he's begun to question whether or not it's worth it for his business to be on Facebook at all.

I was four hard ciders deep and so I drunkenly tried to explain to him some simple things that I thought he could do to improve his overall reach. One of those things was curating more content on his Facebook page. He was sort of taken back. Why should he use valuable post space on links to content that he doesn't own and that doesn't directly further his business goals?

Here's why:

This is a screen cap from the Insights section of the Improvised Star Trek Facebook page, showing our three most recent posts. That orange-y bar shows overall impressions (how many people saw the post.) The blue bar shows post clicks (how many people were interested enough in the post to actually click on it) and that red bar is "likes, clicks, and shares" which marketers refer to as "social engagement." In my line of work, that red bar is the most valuable thing on the screen because it shows you people who care enough about your brand to interact with you.

Overall, I should let you know that I'm really proud of all of the numbers on that page. Compared to other podcasts and improv groups with similar followings on Facebook, our impressions and engagement numbers are pretty awesome. We even beat many groups with bigger followings than us in terms of impressions, and engagement.

But a sort of interesting thing to unpack on this screen grab: two of the posts- the ones dated 6/28 and 6/27- are posts that lead to Improvised Star Trek branded content. The third, dated 6/29, leads to a Hollywood Reporter article about "Star Trek: The Next Generation." As you can see, the numbers, particularly the impressions numbers, are way better for the link to the third party site. Why is that?

Well, when you have a page for your thing on Facebook, you're at the mercy of Facebook's algorithms. Facebook, like many social media sites, uses algorithms to determine who sees what content. In the last few years, Facebook has used these algorithms to limit the organic reach of branded content. What this means is that if I post something that links back to the IST website, or has a big old IST logo on it, only a select number of our followers will see it. Facebook does this because they want you to pay to boost your posts. Businesses have moaned and complained about this, but if you're Facebook it makes sense for two reasons:

1. FB is a business and wants to make money.
2. FB users would get pretty pissed off if their feeds were overly full of content from brands.

People don't go on Facebook to interact with brands- sorry, brands. People go on Facebook to look at puppy pictures, post funny videos of their babies, and generally, hang out with their friends and family. Nobody wants to spend all of their time looking at ads for Coke, McDonalds, or even your improv show/podcast/play.

And that last reason is why I curate content on the Improvised Star Trek Facebook page: because IST does better on Facebook when we treat our fans like they are our friends and family. This is one of those situations (that are not as rare as you might think) where altruism and marketing goals align. I shared that Hollywood Reporter article because I knew that our fans- geeks who like Star Trek- would like it. And guess what? Our fans liked it, commented on it, and shared it. This strengthens our bond with them, and when they do share it, there's a chance that THEIR friends will see "Shared from Improvised Star Trek" on the page and we might pick up a few new likes in the process. I decide what to share on our Facebook page the same way I decide what to share on my personal page: "Is this something my friends and family might also find interesting?"

As an added bonus, this helps me get past the FB algorithms that bop you for sharing your own branded content because... well... it's not branded content.

Now that's not to say I never share IST branded content- clearly from the screen cap I do. That's just to say that I try to post one piece of unbranded content for each promotional piece I share. So far, this seems to have worked out for us.

Your other option here is to post more branded content, and pay to boost it. Most businesses on Facebook do this because they can afford to. But if you're a small business, and you're trying to extend your reach a little and engage your fans a lot, curating content can go a long way toward getting you there.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Weightlifting as Medication

Despite dealing with depression and anxiety in some form for pretty much my whole life, I've never taken actual medication for it. Before we go any further, let's get this out of the way: I have 0 problems with people who take medication for depression, anxiety, or any other form of mental health issues. Mental health illnesses are diseases just like physical illnesses are diseases and sometimes when you get sick you need to take medicine. I admire people who are brave enough to overcome social stigmas about talking about and treating mental illness, and do something about it. They are brave in ways that I am not.

I don't take medication to treat myself. I lift weights.

I think the experience of lifting weights is different for everyone who does it. If you go to a powerlifting meet, or even just to a gym, you see a full range of... styles I guess. You see dudebros who hang out on a bench for 15 minutes chatting with one another before cranking out one set of benchpresses. You see giant monsters who lurk around the gym quietly before SCREAMING as they go for a PR on a heavy deadlift. And you see everything in between. There are as many mental approaches and personal ticks in weightlifting as there are weightlifters. Everybody is different.

Weightlifting is very meditative for me. In fact, it's pretty much the only thing I've ever done in my life that allows me to successfully clear my mind for any period of time. If you see me walking around during the day, I'm probably thinking about five thousand different things. Chances are, that 4,000 of those things are worst-case-scenarios. I often can't sleep at night because I'm up late worrying about whether I'll get food poisoning from the cheeseburger I had for dinner and whether or not we'll ever be able to tackle climate change in a meaningful way when half of the US population doesn't even believe it's a thing. Here are 10 other dumb things that give me anxiety, in case you're curious.  I'm fortunate in that my anxiety is (usually) not crippling. I'm aware of it. I know it's there. And most of the time I can go on with life in a mostly normal way.

In fact, sometimes I actually think my anxiety is good in that it allows me to see the world in a way that not everyone gets to see it. That's probably a whole other blog, "The Silver Linings of Living with Anxiety." Some other time, maybe.

When I go to the gym though, and I'm deadlifting/squatting/benching/cleaning/jerking/snatching/etc., all of that anxiety goes away. When I touch the bar, and focus on my form, and the weight, and the simple action of moving the weight from point A to point B, all of those worries big and small flow out of me, and into the bar. As I move the weight, it's like I'm also moving my anxiety and my depression. They diminish. They grow smaller. They disappear. Just for a little while, the world goes away. When I lift weights, I'm quiet. My mind and my body are connected. As much as I ever feel... one with the universe, I guess, it's at the time I'm weightlifting. It's basically the only time I ever feel calm.

There are other anxiety and depression fighting benefits that come from lifting weights too, beyond that simple sort of meditation that happens during the actual act:

  1. We live in a society that tells you that your body is primarily valuable for the way it looks. As your body grows stronger, you learn to value it for what it can do, rather than what it looks like.
  2. With that said, if you lift weights enough, your body will start to look better. As you grow stronger, your body literally grows bigger. That can be a powerful confidence builder if you let it be.
  3. Weightlifting is something controllable and quantifiable. When life feels like it's spun out of control- work is crazy, your family life is nuts, everything on the news is bleak- weightlifting is often the only thing in life that you have power over.
  4. It's hard. Weightlifting is hard. If it wasn't hard, as they say, everyone would do it. But doing something hard on a regular basis- making yourself do it, and going in each and everyday- you see results. It teaches you discipline, and it shows you that discipline gets results. It helps you develop habits that you can apply to the other parts of your life and can make a real, positive, and lasting change on them.
  5. Friendships. I've met so many wonderful people through weightlifting at my gym, Crossfit Defined. I'm thankful everyday for them. 
I sort of wish that weightlifting wasn't so strongly associated with hyper-aggressive douchebags. Because it doesn't have to be that- it doesn't have to be about dudebros attempting to assert their dominance (or what they believe to be dominance) over the world and the people in it. It can be about meditation, and personal improvement, and friendship. It can be a powerful medication for those of us who struggle with mental illness- a welcome oasis in a desert of worst-case scenarios.