Popularity

Last week I received an email from somebody asking me how I got to know so many people. It surprised me, because I don’t consider myself a very “popular” person — I’m no Ben Brown, after all — but thought I would have a go at answering the question anyway, since I certainly have opinions on these things. The sender also suggested I watch Marie Antoinette — I did, & loved it. Couture & cake, what could be better?! So thank you!

When it comes to making friends in person, one of the most popular things ever written on the subject is Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends & Influence People. It came out in 1936 & all the principles still apply today. The book was a New York Times best-seller for 10 years. When I was growing up, my parents often spoke glowingly of it & I remember reading it at a very young age. (His advice on how to sell products is also brilliant & can be used by anyone in a retail capacity to great success.)

In my experience, the keys to getting somebody to like you are:
Smile genuinely at people (extend it to the eyes).
Remember people’s names. This always blows people away, especially if you haven’t seen them for a couple of years & can rattle their name off easily. If you’re not very good at this, the best way to do it is to repeat the person’s name when they first introduce themselves, i.e., when they say “Hello, I’m Diana”, you should say, “Hello, Diana”. Then proceed to use their name a couple of times in the ensuing conversation. Another good thing to do is link some kind of distinguishing characteristic to their name (mentally) — think of them as “James with the big eyebrows” or “Sally with the glass eye”.
Shut up! Don’t talk about yourself constantly. Ask questions about them. They will probably walk away thinking they just had the best conversation ever.
Maintain eye contact.
Try not to bitch about other people. It just makes everyone in earshot nervous that you’ll do it as soon as their back is turned.
Make people feel important. Sincere compliments are awesome.

Online “popularity” is a little different. As far as I know, no one has written a book about it yet, & even if they did, I doubt it would sell 16 million copies! On my birthday last year, I was sitting in a room in the Hotel Chelsea in New York with my boyfriend, a girl I knew from Livejournal & a guy I had met at Burning Man a week earlier. The girl from Livejournal was talking about people she knew, & even though up until that point I had only lived in New Zealand, on the other side of the planet, I was familiar with a huge amount of the people she mentioned. My boyfriend thought it was hilarious. Am I an internet whore?! No. I’ve just been doing this stuff for a long time.

I’ve been online for 10 years & I’ve been blogging for about 9. Trust me, my old journal entries were B-A-D — but then, most people’s were. In 1997, there were about 20 New Zealanders journalling online. Things were very different then. As we all know, people who write anything online tend to have exhibitionistic tendencies. Everybody wants a reaction, whether it’s just to know that there are like-minded people out there or to piss someone off — that’s why Livejournal is based around a commenting system. It would be nowhere near as successful without that sense of community or the ease of access to other people. I guess the point is that I’ve been writing with an audience in mind for a long time, & this (eventually) pays off, though it depends on your end goal.

I also participate in quite a few online communities — Flickr, Myspace, Consumating & Last.fm, for example. It seems that most people use these to keep in touch with their existing friends, but of course it is a great way to meet new people too. It’s extremely easy to do this, but you have to make the effort. If you combine the tips below with a willingness to meet up with people in the “real world”, you will definitely end up knowing a lot of people. Without further ado, here are some ways to encourage people’s interest in your online presence.

Keep the angst to a minimum.
Seriously. Everyone has problems, but nobody wants to hear about yours — especially if you go on & on & on about the same thing all the time. If people know you in real life & you whinge online occasionally, they will probably put up with it. But if they don’t? No one is going to stick around for that crap, unless they dislike you & want to have a laugh. I know this sounds really, really harsh, but it’s true — & it applies to face-to-face interactions too. Nobody likes a party-pooper! So shut it!

Provide something.
Inspiration, music suggestions, philosophical musings, movie reviews, top ten lists, dirty jokes, masturbatory fodder. It doesn’t matter really. Work out who you want your primary audience to be, & then think about what they want. People tend to seek out things that make them feel better. Be uplifting.

Variety is the key.
This applies to everything in life, not just blogs. The point is, if you update every day about what you ate for dinner or how work went, it’s going to get old really quickly. Surprise people.

Only post when something actually happens.
If your life is boring, either fix it or keep it to yourself! Once you’ve done something, write it up in an interesting fashion. Don’t just write “I went to the zoo”. Write about what happened at the zoo. It is your viewpoint that will keep people interested. Even if you did something really amazing, like visiting the pyramids in Egypt, an entry that says “I went to the pyramids. It was hot. I lost my shoe. Lolz.” is virtually worthless.

Skip the mundane banter about everyday life.
Again, this also applies to live interactions with people. Everyone feels the temperature, goes to work & feeds their cat. Yup, we get it: boring. Next!

People are visual.
Everyone likes pictures. You don’t have to be Gemma Ward (or Christy Turlington for those not up with the current model scene) to exploit this fact. What’s the most interesting part of your life? Is it where you live? Your sock collection? The food you eat? Your habit of performing lewd acts at the office? All of these things can be photographed. Generally, “the weirder the better” is a good rule of thumb here.

High production values.
If you can’t spell, use a spell-checker. Edit your photos so they’re not huge or ugly. Check that your html is free of errors. This seems obvious, but a lot of people don’t get it. If you do things in a half-assed way, people will think you don’t care. Their assumption is probably right. Either do it properly or don’t bother.

Be courteous & responsive.
Once people start reading your journal or website or whatever, reply to their emails & comments! If you don’t, people will feel unappreciated, & trust me, they will go elsewhere. No one likes to feel invisible or unimportant, so for god’s sake don’t neglect the people you’re trying to attract. Also remember: being a hit on the internet really doesn’t make you any cooler than anyone else.

Maintain some mystery.
Writing about how bored you are at work on a Friday or how you got food poisoning at your grandmother’s house doesn’t make you more interesting. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Sometimes less is more.

Be original.
Well, if you want to. In a similar vein to the hundreds of girls on Myspace with hair extensions, false eyelashes & Gloomy Bears, if all you do is rip off other people, you will remain indistinguishable from everyone else. Copying other people is easy, whereas coming up with something on your own is scarier. You might get laughed at. You may be openly mocked. Then, maybe, the hordes will come & imitate you… or you will be ostracised for the rest of your life. (Okay, not the rest of your life. Probably just a year.) Only you can decide whether that is a risk you want to take.

Avoid memes.
It’s kind of like that old piece of writing advice: show, don’t tell. People would rather learn about you through details rather than a blanket statement. What I mean is, posting your result of the “What Cream Cheese Flavour Are You?” means nothing. Likewise, if you want the world to know how sexually adventurous & experienced you are (hey, that’s your prerogative), you could post your purity score… or you could allude to a huge collection of vibrators & your recently acquired Whitehead gag.

Link everything together.
Make your domain, wishlists, Flickr, Myspace, Consumating, Facebook, Livejournal & Youtube accounts easy to access from one another. People don’t want to have to dig around the internet to get to know you (unless they are a weird stalker, in which case they will do it anyway). Make it easy for them. Theoretically, the more you participate in, the greater your exposure — just make sure it is all to a similar (high) standard. Having more than one channel of communication makes you seem more realistic & multi-faceted.

Any of my popularity, perceived or otherwise, is due to following those guidelines… more or less. Eventually though, it’s only my opinion, & you may find yourself projected to Internet Rockstar status by posting a succession of cute cat photos. You never know. Of course, if all else fails, just get naked. I hear geeks love that stuff.

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