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Friday, January 20, 2017

Leadership and Fear

by Steven S. Vrooman

You will be haunted by three spirits. . . 
A specter is haunting our social media.

Leadership is a hard nut to crack. A cottage industry of keynote speakers is possible because we seem to have an enduring appetite for new takes on the subject. One of the key books on the subject, which I used as my textbook last time I taught a leadership class, defines it like this:

It is a complex, multidimensional process that is often conceptualized in a variety of ways by different people. (Northouse, 2012, p. 9)

On the one hand, yes, sure, that sounds about right. On the other, well, like, dude, um, that doesn't help us an awful lot, really. 

So, perhaps leadership is what Michael Calvin McGee (1980) called an <ideograph>. Later scholars in the field started using those < > symbols to designate ideographs in a more marked way than simple quotation marks, in case you were wondering. Classic examples of ideographs are things like <freedom> and <justice> and even <America>, or, in some recent work I'm doing with some colleagues, perhaps even <geek> and <nerd>. An ideograph is an abstraction that is used for its lack of specificity as a tool for persuasion or manipulation. 

For example, if everyone wrote down what <privacy> meant on a sheet of paper and we stacked them together, we'd find some commonalities, but there would be lots of differences. The basic one I can think of is the classic "freedom from..." version of privacy (the 4th Amendment, search and seizure, Miranda rights, etc.) and "freedom to...", which is what the Supreme Court uses in cases involving personal sexuality and abortion, for example. And there would be many other differences, as well. 

The reason for ideographic use in politics is obvious, right? We can all act like we all agree on something, even if we really don't believe all the same things, or maybe even any of the same things.

<Leadership> is an abstraction we use to, well, what exactly? It's not a political term, or like <Chicano>, (Delgado, 2009) or <nerd> a badge of collective identity. If leadership is an ideograph, I think it is more defensive. We keep it broad so that we all can pretend to be one.

The implications of that idea are far-reaching, but for this post I'd like to highlight one in particular that emerged in the wake of the 2016 presidential election.

Immediately after Election Day, social media was awash with political yelling. Even stodgy old LinkedIn. So Adam Prybelski wrote a piece pointing out:

As of this writing it has been shared almost 28,000 times. I keep seeing it in my LinkedIn feed.

Reasonable enough, I suppose. But I keep seeing those political rants reform themselves into hidden barbs, many of which are now taking the form of opinions on leadership, which is part of the insidious process by which ideographs are used.

I saw many updates and articles on LinkedIn from folks on the right who complained about millenials scared of the results of the election, hiding, like children, in their safe spaces, too scared to come and face reality. I saw similar things from folks on the left, who complained about boomers and gen-xers on the right who were too afraid of diversity, women, a changing economy, a changing world, life outside of gated communities or rural areas filled with sameness and seeming safety.

These insults were interesting because they almost always nestled in larger articles or posts on professional issues. That usually concluded with the author's thoughts on how this demonstrated failed leadership. Convenient hook to make sure no one cites Prybelski at you, but it is also, in this contentious hour, a particularly revelatory choice.

We may not know what leadership is, but we know what it is not -- FEAR.

Even though both sides are overly simplistic in their attacks on the other side, perhaps this connection with fear can be of use to us. Here's the thing about ambiguities and abstractions, they are haunted. In this case <leadership> is haunted by the specter of <fear>. This haunting metaphor, used by sociologist Avery Gordon (1997), is evocative. Think of possession. We are controlled by unseen entities and forces. Fear is the absent gravitational, tectonic, parapsychological force that propels what we think of when we think of leadership.

But we can't or won't admit that that's what we're thinking. We're not supposed to imagine leadership might really be so basic, to use the millenial jargon. 

Underneath its ideographic exterior, used to manipulate and argue and build keynotes, is it possible that leadership, if we were more honest with the ghosts that haunt us, is more accurately defined as "a structured process of guiding effective collective response to fear"?

This has uses in various contexts. When things are going badly we are afraid of what might happen. When things are going well we are afraid it will stop or slow and we will be left behind. Hundreds of examples come to mind immediately, in all sorts of contexts.

We all seem so subject to this fear, this haunting. We all keep wanting to define leadership as a fragile thing that keeps spinning, but limited inside the hamster wheels of our own politics, our own fears, our own ghosts. 

We are afraid. Mostly of each other. 

And we are using <leadership> as an ideographic hammer to try to fit all the complexity we are afraid of into little boxes that we already understand. This makes us feel smart and adult and important and like we are doing something outside of the fake-news echo chambers or our overly winnowed Facebook feeds. And we are looking for extra <business> type words that can help us to feel like we can offer the world something different going forward in this new environment of tenseness we are all afraid of. But we're just repackaging the chaos into the old packages, like sending a return back to Amazon with new tape over the torn cardboard and the weak spot where we pulled off the old label.

Let's stop. This structured process of guiding you through this fear begins like this - simply. 

If we can agree, together, in these complex times, that this idea about leadership we have been saying to each other without knowing it is something interesting about leadership we can actually agree on, that's a good start.

Maybe we should brainstorm together for a bit on what we can do next with that idea.

Friday, January 13, 2017

"Every Speaker Has A Story" Podcast ShowNotes: Episode 4, "Superheroes"

by Steven S. Vrooman

Whew! Finally made it out of 2016 and finished another episode:

When I started sharing this podcast via social media, people from all over volunteered to be on the show. Meeting new people as part of the interview process and learning what they are all about is one of the joys of making this show.

Usually I look over their stuff, their website, some video, etc. before we start. You know, homework. Well, December is the end of the fall semester for professors, and it comes with a huge amount of work. I had an interview scheduled with Jayc Ryder, and since he was going to be travelling, this was my only shot to get him recorded before the new year. So, I went in blind.

He's a psychic. Like, he can connect with spirits and see the future kind of thing. 

Blew me away! This is what I get for not doing my homework! Jayc was a great interview, and I never got to ask him whether or not he already knew I wasn't going to be prepared or not, but the whole thing got me thinking about people with various different kinds of special abilities, physical, mental, performative, emotional. It turns out I had already interviewed people like this already, and as 2016 turned into 2017, I met quite a few more. 

Their stories are really cool, and I hope you enjoy the show. 

Here they are, the so-far unnamed team of superhero speakers in this episode:

1) The Psychic! 

Jayc Ryder (@JaycRyder) is a psychic investigator who uses his abilities in individual consultations as well as in web design and motivational and business speaking. 

He was a top finisher in the extremely popular Ukranian television show Bitva Ekstrasensov (Battle of the Psychics):

You can find more information at

2) The Strongman!

You met Eric Moss (@strongmanericmoss) in the last episode and read about him in the ShowNotes. Here he is performing the feat he described in this episode:

3) The Mad Magician!

Joe Fingerhut (@joefingerhut) is a magician and unicylist who does motivational speaking for young people. Here he is doing one of the signature tricks he talks about in the episode:
You can find out more on his website at

4) Batman!

Okay, maybe he's not the real Batman, but Sean (Tucker) Harley (@SH_Tucker) is close enough.

He is a UX Designer, a singer, a writer and, most importantly to me, a podcaster whose The Spark and the Art podcast (@SparkArtPodcast) is what inspired me to start podcasting in the first place. He interviews people about their creative process. His show is a great meditation for creative people in all sorts of enterprises.

Give one of his episodes or songs a listen, and check out his children's book at Here is a video for one of his tunes:

5) The Illustrator!

Although she's not interviewed in this episode, our surprise mystery guest is my partner in awesome, Michelle Johnson (@mj_flowergirl).

Doodled Blooms

In the episode I mention that she's the one who discovered and then told me about Tucker's podcast while drawing images for her coloring book, Doodled Blooms: A Hand-Drawn Coloring Book of Fantastical Flora for Everyone, and I thought you might want to take a look at it on Amazon. Here's a preview of it made by Tabby May Art (@TabbyMayArt):

6) Wonder Woman!

You met Mary Shahan (@mjsbootin my very first episode. She's a life coach and motivational speaker who uses her experience to teach people about wellness.

You can find out about her and see her in action is that episode's ShowNotes.

7) The Brainiac!

Dr. Phil Ruge-Jones (@markstoryteller) was a Professor of Theology and my colleague at Texas Lutheran University for many years until recently, when he stepped off into the world of full-time storytelling.

Image may contain: 1 person

He performs biblical narratives, including the entire book of Mark, from memory, in a process he describes in the episode. Here he is performing Chapter 9:

8) Omega Woman!

LaTarsha Holden (@HoldenLaTarsha) is a pastor, speaker and advocate, who I've called Omega Woman because it sounds like the most fantastic of superhero names. It is also the name of the organization she founded, Omega's House, which served homeless women and children.

You can find more information about her, as well as links to her book, at, and you can see her tell the story of her heroic transformation from a homeless mother of six to the success she is today in a documentary about her life:

A big thank you for all of the heroes who taught me so much in this episode!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Snarky Social Media Yearbook, 2016

by Steven S. Vrooman

I tweeted all of this on #socialmediayearbook2016, but just in case you prefer your snark in blog form, here you go. And in lo-fi text version instead of embedded tweets, this blog post will be nice and small on the bandwidth so you can stop hogging the Internet, making your son lag so munch on Halo 5 that you mess up his ability to get to Platinum. True story.


Twitter: ads, spam, bots, Trump, trolls, bots, bots, bots, bots, bots, bots, bots, bots.....

Facebook: Where America gets fake news, now with added millenials!

Instagram: Slowly consuming the souls of other platforms #burp

Snapchat: Camera roll hack-apps are still considered cheating, barely.

LinkedIn: You can't just *assert* you are a "thought leader," bro.

Periscope: Cuz if you were really a thought leader you'd'a been on this last year.

Pinterest: Still where people outsource their femininity or masculinity.

Tumblr: Keeping Rule 34 alive.

Cord: #crickets

ello: #hipstercrickets

Vine: Hey, I remember this app! Maybe I sh-----------.

Untappd: Social media's future -- micro-networks based on interest.

MySpace: Is this thing on?

There you go. 

Pithy and perhaps not as accurate as it might be, but as various gurus share their social media predictions for 2017 (the reading of which prompted me to think these thoughts), this is my only solid prediction. As Snapchat and Facebook and Twitter fight to be king of the hill of the pile of macro networks, many of us find ourselves checking micro networks more and more. Subreddits, things like Untappd, Tumblr for many (even as it grows in scope), even Pokemon once they inevitably let you chat with people who are defending the same gym as you (I can feel your judgment. It's for science), these will be the places you go with more and more regularity. Those who find the right clusters of affinity groups will succeed. And given that the demographics of affinity groups are easier to figure out, packaging that and selling it to advertisers will be a powerful move. 

I think. We'll see what I think about this prediction in next year's Social Media Yearbook.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Social Media, Behind-the-Scenes, Celebrity, and the Authenticity Dilemma

by Steven S. Vrooman

You know you need to do social media.

You know you need to do casual, goofy, funny, "real," and/or behind-the-scenes social media.

You hate that.

Sound about right?

You are not alone.

This is a dilemma. But the solution is simple:


In the past three weeks I have done social media consulting with two very different people with two very different goals and this was the answer in both cases.

Social media is not just some sad pantomime of reality. For certain purposes and for certain audiences, it should be "real" reality, as much as possible. And if that reality is you hating doing social media, well then.

An important piece of social media strategy is to take your audience:


We love that stuff for things we like, from the old Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous to DVD featurettes to TMZ to . . .

You see where this is going. Celebrity

You might think a celebrity is not the same thing as the business or organization you are promoting on social media, but that's not quite true. You need something personal-ish, especially for a smaller organization or business. Social media makes the world a small town, and if you live in one of those, you know that everyone knows who everyone is, for better or worse. If I can see who you are, it helps:

That's a slide from a kyenote I gave to the Texas Self Storage Association. The idea is that one dilemma self storage faces as an industry is that people tend to think those businesses are creepy or sketchy. Popular culture reinforces this notion. To combat that, you show some of the nuts and bolts of actual people doing actual work, like weeding or taking promo shots. In some cases, I just want to see who you are so I know who to talk to when I go there:

This is what contemporary marketing theory tells us. As Seth Godin says, "The new era of modern marketing is about the connection economy, it's about trust, it's about awareness."

So make that connection. Build trust.

What that looks like is an awful lot like what researchers on celebrity culture have found. Horton and Wohl in 1956 came up with the idea of "para-social interaction," that people can have what they feel like are "real" relationships with stars or even with fictional characters (who play villains and get shade when people meet them on the street, for example).

Most of our perspectives on celebrities are more complex than that, which is where we can really learn something about a social media world in which someone like Sara Hopkins can get millions of followers across various social media platforms, but especially Vine and Snapchat, by being awkward, funny, weird and "real" as she does things like show us all the things she keeps in her purse for 7 minutes:

Joshua Gamson talks about two models of celebrity, the democratic and the aristocratic. The aristocratic model holds that star are just better than us, glorious creatures form another sphere . . . . aaaaannnnddd Todd Gitlin points out that eventually our love curdles and we love to hate them. The democratic model is that we could be just like them with a few other opportunities. In both models, we want to know about them, dirt and all, and feel connected to them.

Sometimes the dirt is what we like best, and not in a hateful way. Richard Dyer argues that Judy Garland's awkwardness, her addictions, her "combination of strength and suffering" (p. 149) are what make her an icon for the gay community.

Gilderoy Lockhart says the following about celebrity:

It's a joke about a pompous phony of a character, and you will probably feel like him when you do what I suggest next, but the pattern of what you DO actually does affect how your celebrity works. So,


This is what I told them. 

In one case, the person was reluctant, given his expertise and public persona, to do this, even though half a dozen of us around the table were all suggesting it. It wasn't just a distaste for this kind of thing, personally, but this person is a journalist, and the feeling was that we were asking him to do exactly what journalism school trained him not to do, insert himself into the news.

Which is fair. So, be a celebrity but keep your distance by embracing the awkward as you go behind-the-scenes. Don't just show video of yourself doing something, show video of, in this case, you telling the camera how weird it makes you feel to be doing the thing you are doing. That's what you are really feeling, so it's the most honest thing you can do. And, remembering our celebrity theory, it is what will draw us to you the most.

For example, when I went live on Facebook to be goofy and tell a few jokes before I started a webinar on game design and teaching, I doubled my audience. Granted, it wasn't an enormous audience, but still. Doubled. With this:

The Kristen Stewart jokes probably helped.

In the other case, I was advising a person in religious life who was trying to figure out how to bring a certain message to church congregations. Her concern was that the subject was so controversial that they might just think she was a "church-hater." So my suggestion, which she took, was to make this a video. A personal video of her saying she was hoping she could figure out how to do this. Maybe a group video where people have conversations about how she can avoid that fate given the topic and what they hope to do with the congregations. Make that part of the media that you provide to the congregations and use the lessons of social media and celebrity to work in "real" life: show that what you want them to do is struggle with ideas, just like you are. You know this could all go wrong and are sharing that fear with them, because, as this whole process demonstrates, you think they are good people and you trust them. 

This is the #ShareMore theme that is worked through in my TED Talk:

Various theorists have long pointed out that relationships and connections are more important than information is persuading people. We just kinda suck at information exchange. We'd rather connect.

And isn't that what social media is???????????

It is not broadcast TV. It is a relational, two-way street. We could have invented another kind of Internet, but people kept pushing for the interactions that have always been its core to proliferate and become more powerful.

Why are we trying to hew to lessons from 1980s textbooks about one-way communication that were, given my celebrity theory stuff above, wrong even from the beginnings of their disciplines?

Look, here's a final example.

I think you should watch my TED Talk because it illustrates what I want you to understand as you read this. I also know that this post is getting a bit long and so maybe another video might help you re-engage. 

Okay, but I also know that you will look at my embedding of that video as crass self-promotion, especially after I already embedded one! That's not my intent, as I don't get money for YouTube views or ads and I'm not sure how you watching me on video is any MORE crass self-promotion than you reading my blog, or how yet another video counts as worse levels of crassness, when it comes down to it, but I have a feeling you might respond that way anyway. I just do.

So I am here taking you behind-the-scenes. All of social media looks and feels like crass self-promotion sometimes. And as we build edifices of online presence across multiple platforms, sometimes we want to share across those platforms, not always to "leverage," but sometimes just because I already said it really well on that day I was wearing a blue shirt, so why not?


Did I really persuade you about self-promotion? Were you even thinking of that in the first place? I dunno. It doesn't matter.

I am actually okay with you thinking I am a self-promoter. If part of my job is teaching you how to self-promote, well, jeez, I kinda need the street cred there. 

What all this has done is take you a bit inside how I process things. That way you can decide how much connection you want to make with your idea of me and whether or not further reading or watching of my stuff is worthwhile. 

It highlights that all of this is your decision, which it always was, but it feels good to have the person writing or filming admit that to you and leave it up to you. 

That's called trust.

It's the only thing that matters.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

"Every Speaker Has A Story" Podcast ShowNotes: Episode 3, "Nerves"

by Steven S. Vrooman

For each podcast episode, I write this ShowNotes piece which allows listeners to find out more information on the background and current projects (and speaking availability!) of my interviewees/storytellers. I will do that here, as well, but if you listened to the episode...

... you know that it references quite a lot of specific information and tools for managing speaking anxiety, and I wanted to make sure, as promised, that you can find them.

You can find Michael Motley's book on the Information-vs-Performance method of reducing speaker nerves on Amazon (for quite a lot of money) or see some of the pages on scribd. You can also find my quicker explanation of his method on my very first post in The MoreBrainz Blog. Further help can be found in a series of posts of I wrote which 1) explain activities you can do to help work on your speaking nerves, and 2) critique the reams of bad advice out there in the blogosphere on how to reduce your nerves (obviously written by non-nervous people looking to "push content"). Simply go to the "anxiety" label\keyword on this blog to find what you need. Finally, you should take a look at Peter Kenny's book, A Handbook of Public Speaking for Scientists and Engineers.

On to our guests. I didn't realize that this episode could be subtitled "Nerds, Unite!" until I started putting this blog post together, but maybe that's part of the key to managing speaking anxiety. Nerds know what they love. And they won';t shut up about it. Even when their palms start sweating.

1. Gregory Hyde (@gregoryhyde) is a musician and public speaker in the Chicago area. He speaks on both the independent music industry and in faith-based settings. He looks pretty cool in this picture, but he's really a big nerd who wears Star Wars shirts to speaking gigs.

You can see him in action as a speaker and as a musician in clips on his website, Here's my favorite:

2. Mildred Ray is someone you met last episode and you can find all about her in those ShowNotes.

3. Brett Bormann is a former student of mine who is studying now at The New School in New York. The very first speech she ever gave for me in a class was on basilisks, and it just got nerdier from there.

Her research, as always, is about audiences and fans.

4. Tanisha Williams is an elementary school teacher and public speaker in New Jersey.

We have decided that we would each like to go back in time and have each other as a teacher. So, if anyone invents time travel, we're ready.

Tanisha received a M.A. in English Education from Columbia University and has taught elementary and high school for twenty years. As a veteran master teacher, Tanisha has spoken at educational workshops and mentored novice teachers.

Like Gregory, she also often speaks in faith-based settings. She is finishing a book on personal growth which will be published this summer.

5. Connor Dillon (@connorjdillon) is the Chief Education Officer at The Dillon Group.

Connor Dillon

Connor also writes for Fan Fest News, where he displays a puzzling interest in Heroes Reborn.

6. Eric Moss (@strongmanmoss) is a strongman and motivational speaker in the New Jersey area. 

He has a world record for bending a steel bar across the bridge of his nose (!!!!), a feat which you can see in the video below.

He performs intense feats of strength as part of his inspirational speeches for various audiences, but quite often in schools. His website is and his book is available on Amazon.

7. Beth Ziesenis (@nerdybff) is a professional nerd who speaks about technology all over the country. 

The first time I met her she was taking pictures of conference participants in silly glasses. When she pulled out the alien eyes shades, I knew we were kindred spirits. 

She knows everything you ever wanted to know about apps, like this one:

Her website is

Thanks to all of these speakers for sharing their stories! Quite a few of them are available for gigs, and all of them are fantastic!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Hillary Clinton Could Have Won with Better Social Media: A Roadmap

by Steven S. Vrooman

Social media strategy. 

This is a very long article a little bit about how the first president elected because of social media got there, but mostly about how the losing candidate could have won if her campaign had even a reasonably decent social media strategy. Hillary Clinton lost because millenials did not turn out for her, and it would not have taken much to have shifted this election given how close some of the key states were. Clinton did not have to convince conservative voters or even underemployed rust belt voters to shift to her. She just needed to get a portion of the 75 million voting-age millenials, at least half of whom are liberal, to be willing to cast their vote for her like they did for Obama. And social media was the missing piece in making that happen.

Are you ready? This is 3500 words. This will take a minute. It's worth it, though.

After the election, my partner in awesome, Michelle Johnson, who has just come off a stint coordinating social media for a victorious local election campaign, and I found ourselves on a long car trip to Dallas to see our son and his high school band perform in a drumline competition.

Here we are after the competition, taking him to the nerdiest store we could find.

As we processed the various local elections and the national ones, we generated lists of things the losing candidates should have done to achieve their goals via social media. This is the kind of thing we talk about for fun. #nerds. We also both (she, me) work in the field in various ways, and this is how we keep our skills sharp. We learn from each other. 

We started by talking over what I had been doing with my social media class that week, as she's coming in to be a guest speaker this week. Right now my social media class was derailed by the election. We sort of threw out the schedule to be able to focus on how social media and this election have been working. As I said to them, "In 40 years wouldn't you look back at this time and say, 'We were in a class on SOCIAL MEDIA and didn't stop to process what just happened?'"

We set up a hashtag and have been coming to various conclusions, like:
Our key conclusion was this: Trump is only president because of social media. He worked his social media to build a persona that would attract his rust-belt angry white target demographic and accomplished the huge rhetorical feat of convincing angry lower-income voters in swing states that this privileged billionaire from New York City was one of them. Although he got loads of media and blog flak for his content, it seemed to work. Ultimately, it feels like he is talking directly to people, which is a key measure of people's feelings of authenticity, and his ostentatious lack of polish may very well just sound like "us" or "a regular person" to his target audience. It is "working class language."

Hillary Clinton's campaign, on the other hand, was unable to meet its own authenticity rhetorical challenge. Millenials rejected her campaign with memes like these:




For many, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the least popular candidates in perhaps forever, was a choice between the lesser of two evils:




She had to make that key connection, what Kenneth Burke called "identification," with people. Scroll down just a bit here to see what he says:

Hillary Clinton did that in some ways. Look at Pantsuit Nation. Look at the people who lined up for hours at Susan B. Anthony's gravesite on Election Day:

But, in other ways, she didn't.

Look at how Bernie Sanders Dank Memes treat her like an out-of-touch dorky robot mom who was ruining MY LIFE!!! GAWD!!!!




There are likely all sorts of things we can point to to figure out why she lost. But here are the things that should have happened to address these issues with millenials and others who were rejecting her on these authenticity grounds. These are not "pure social media plays," but there is no such thing. Social media strategy should emerge from "real life" and should be organically connected to "real" things that can create identification.

Here are the things she needed to do:

1) Personalize her social media

a) Social Media Should Be REAL

We know Trump wrote a lot of his tweets. Hillary Clinton theoretically only wrote the ones marked "-H," but the wikileaks stuff showed that even that was really a comedy of multiple meetings.

She really needed to do more of what Joel Kinnaman's character is made fun of for on House of Cards: lots of "real" posts. 


Sure, they are staged and not as authentic as they are made to seem, but have you seen people posing for and retaking and then filtering and cropping selfies? The show is cagey. The posts are silly, but they keep getting Kinnaman's presidential candidate out of jams.

Trump is busy posing as tough. Clinton needed to pose as....real. 

We should see her choosing pantsuits off the rack of colors more than just that one time in 2015. We should have people vote for them. 

Solicit "take a picture in a pantsuit day" for some hashtag and retweet a bunch. People sure did it themselves, eventually. 


All over the country. At the last minute. And after the election. The campaign should have seen this coming and led the way.

Clinton should have been tagged or hashtagged in all those selfies she posed for with people. Solicit people's posting of them. Heck, make a staffer run a flickr account and post the top five of the day!


You saw her after rallies or speeches or debates, hanging with all people. Just Google this and see how much of this content is out there, UNUSED BY THE CAMPAIGN in any systematic way! 

Here's a sample...
Just think if there was a regular feature where @hillaryclinton reposted one of these pics and then described a bit about what they talked about. She is standing with handlers! Make them take notes and/or take a picture of the selfie-taking, LIKE THEY DID RIGHT THERE ABOVE! Every day Hillary Clinton talks to real people, takes a selfie and can talk about what they talked about. They did vague forms of this kind of thing a lot, but how much better is this in her Twitter as a regular feature than the committeed memes they used so often?

UPDATE 11/17/16: I took my #tlucomm339 class through these ideas and this bit FLOORED people. As one student said, "This would have affected me. I just got the sense that Trump was flying all over the place and she wasn't doing anything. Like she was just coasting and expected us to just vote for her because."

This sense of the REAL was one of Michelle's key points in the car ride to Dallas. In her own social media work she's found that being a real person leads to real relationships with real people. The value of those is incalculable. 

b) Social Media Should Be WEIRD

And, yes, she's probably awkward in person. We get that sense from interviews and whatnot. USE THAT! It's gold. The campaign seemed to run from that like fire. That weird head bob thing that the Right thought was a seizure? Make a bunch of GIFs of her doing the same kind of awkward head motions in moments that are not seizures. Play it up. She is goofy. She is a nerd. BTW, you know she's the only candidate who does her homework, right? #VoteForHermioneNotTheWeasley

We learned from Robert Hanke's analysis of the "mock macho" sitcom (Coach, Home Improvement, King of Queens, etc.) that playing up goofiness seems to convey the "Hey, I can't be evil vibe." How can you be "Killary" if you can't get through a conversation without having something weird happen?

Like, really. Have a staffer take constant video and then use the #AwkwardHRC bit of the week. Not Presidential? Remember, DoNaLd TrUmP won. The rules have changed. Then you top it with a commercial posted to YouTube where you talk about it. She fesses up that she's kind of an introvert. 

This is Michelle's #protip here. Get everything on video. You can't use it if you don't have it.

Joebama show up to talk about awkward moments with her from the White House like they did for the "Have a Plan" and "Early Voting" bits. Did they really just try to win the election by only selling the goofiness of those two and not her? Can't you see Biden talking about the time her weird laugh in the Situation Room made the Joint Chiefs giggle at each other?

Then, push it farther. They needed to tweak Michelle Obama's mantra:"When they go low, we go weird."

Put Bill Clinton and John Podesta in pantsuits. Obama. Kaine. Bernie. The staff. Her grandson. Heck, bring out Monica Lewinsky in one and have her give a new version of her TED Talk. This is what moving on looks like. This is how we get down to what is important. This is how respect works. 



In each case where something problematic came up, this isn't business as usual; theoretically grown people believe she is a murderer. You have to make bigger plays.

The emails?

They revealed an over-thought campaign: so many meetings, email pile-ons, and awkward decisions that many people would have liked to have been intuitive instead of planned for weeks with a dozen people. 

Some liberals liked that, "Hey, thought behind decisions." Others, "meh". But, remember, they think you are plotting murders and coverups and treason and graft and stuff. That's what they think of when they think of emails. Make them think differently.

Have Podesta do performative reading of his emails. Get him out of the shadows. Have him and Clinton perform each side of an exchange doing their best impression of each other. Just tell us Clinton's Podesta impression doesn't go viral!

Find Larry Lessig. A staffer said they hated him. He was cool on his blog in response. Have a thing with him where you apologize and give him a minute to bemoan bad uses of leaks, etc. Tell him you're sorry. Have a #wikisorry thing going. Sure, people will jump on it with paranoia. But push content on it until you shift the coverage.

Her Humans of New York thing was great, and it's telling it wasn't her campaign who did something like that first.

c) Social Media Should be FUNNY

Give us more behind the screen. Let us see the goofy wizard behind the curtain. She's SOOOOOOOOO not as scary as Oz!

Show her on the plane, in the car, eating a taco, hanging with Chelsea or the grandkids. Charlotte and Aidan. They have names. Did you know those names? WHY DIDN'T YOU? 

I get that you want to avoid "grandma," "old," and such, but the Bernie Bros made her into evil Mom. Shift that. Read funny children's books to the grandkids, crack them up with crazy pigeon on the bus book readings. THAT goes viral. 

Obama is awesome in the White House photos. We needed to see her every day the same way. Record a 30 second video on the plane talking about what story struck her that day.

Make a huge amount of real out there so that Kate McKinnon's "walking like I practiced" bit, which is still a softball compared to their treatment of Trump, couldn't land.


In response to the skit, take a video of step practice and joke about it. Show Podesta sitting on the couch drinking a coffee out of one of those We Are Happy To Serve You cups while Clinton tries out walks. Punchline, "'John, you try this in heels.' --to be continued!"

I think Clinton would have gone for this stuff. She went on Galifianakis, after all.

Let her be funny! 

You wanna tell me she couldn't get the Ghostbusters together on stage and have Clinton replace McKinnon for the bit? Then bring out McKinnon in a pantsuit, maybe.

Let her be funny! (Fist bump from Michelle here).

This is how Paul Wellstone, BEFORE the Internet, went from zero to hero and won a Senate seat in 1990. He won the watercooler, the scuttlebutt, the word-of-mouth, contest. He dominated the pre-technology irl social media of people having conversations:


Whew. That's a lot. 

But, really, that's how you pivot on "she's evil." Turn it into "She's real..... yeah REALLY awkward and silly and normal and boring." This is connected with ....

2) The HRC Unscripted College Tour

a) First, Shift Your PR Style

Abandon 1950s PR. The old, don't justify it with a response and avoid the controversy tactic. Deflect. Downplay. Distract. Like the public is an angry toddler: "What about a cookie?"


Here's one of many many takedowns of that approach for your reading pleasure: "Silence is Always Bad."

This has been the wrong approach in the textbooks for decades. And in a social media age, it's a no go.

Clinton never engaged the emails issue in the debates. The tactic seemed to have been to distract and move on. She had that quick apology and then....nothing in one of the debates (they are blurring together now and all I see is Alec Baldwin, so I can't tell you which one and you can't make me sit through one of them again!). It set Trump back a bit when he accused her of doing it "on purpose" (Wait, what?). But that's not good enough. What really is the difference between befuddled Trump and normal Trump in those debates? That's not a win.

And, it was obvious this was the thing that mattered if you, say, read ANYTHING WRITTEN BY ALMOST ANYONE. Liberals were saying things like "Emails are nothing compared to ALL THIS STUFF HE DID," but it didn't take much research to figure out that they still really mattered to people. So....

Have a ginormous address like Obama did with Reverend Wright or Romney did with being Mormon.

If they think you are pedantic and boring, okay then. Pedantic the crap out of it and beat it into the ground. Like talk for 3 hours. You want to write a piece on my emails because you are too lazy to do real research, writer for political blog number 157? Game on!

Brietbart will be like "So corrupt it took 3 hours!" but it would have ended up better. Silence sounds guilty to people for whom Trump's diction sounds "working class." It's like not looking them in the eye when you talk. 

Plenty of meme-able moments would happen, like, "Look, can you imagine what it is like to be doing all this up here?" Just be extra real with people. Throw down again on the vast right-wing conspiracy you think this still is. 



"They thought I wanted to be the first female president in 1992 when we talked about being Oval Office partners. That terrified them and they spent years making up John Birchian conspiracy theories like a hydra. You fight one silly, paranoid rumor and another one springs up. I kill journalists to cover up their story TWO DAYS after it broke? This is desperate and sad." 

Are you going to make Fox News ANGRIER at you than it already is? Can you possibly get worse press from the Right? Fight 'em and pull in the liberals who were stumping for Elizabeth Warren to run!

You look more like Susan B. Anthony getting beaten for what she believed in and can claim the feminist mantle a little more clearly. You can also make a bunch of HYDRA references, bring out Robert Downey, Jr. (he was in the Whedon video, so he's down), have him talk about "Orange Skull" and drop all the big negative insulting things. He's Iron Man, so it's fine if he says it.

If they hate you for being X, if you actually are X and have no plausible vector to make them hate you less for it, be a waaaayyyyyy bigger X and roll that train down to the "Green Place," Furiosa. 

That really is how Trump did his thing. Do yours.

b) Get in People's Faces

And then go on tour of universities in swing states. Open mics. Line up. HRC will be there. No speech. She'll just get to the podium and she will take questions. Press invited (all that about no press conferences...), but she wants to hear from the students, conservative, liberal, whoever. Just pull them in. And roll out the selfie train. 

Or just take pics on stage with anyone wearing pantsuits.

Bad press? Another one tomorrow. 4 schools in North Carolina Thursday. Wisconsin, here we come!

Don't give them a free concert. #pandermuch? Give them answers. They don't want a cookie or a trophy, whatever your demographics staffer says. They want to feel like they can believe you. That takes work and time.

Call it the "Hillary Unscripted Tour." Or something. All questions answered. Have Warren or Sanders or Beyonce or Downey, Jr. or Whedon or someone there sometimes. Film it. Show parts of it. 

You could even suggest you are making a documentary about what it is like to have the assassination of your character be the foundation of an entire conservative industry, making clear that that industry is the only thing going for a policy-less Trump campaign.

What if you are HRC, America? All that media and you still want to be the President? What would you do? Because, it is possible she's innocent, right? What would you do to clear your name under the shifting hydra of questions. #marvelreferenceftw

Oooh, here's a bit both Michelle and I had a kind of "That's genius and might have swung the election!" moment about: Start the show with "Everybody Hurts" and students come up and read mean tweets or things from Ann Coulter's latest "book." Play it all up like Trump's entire campaign is ...

wait for it ...

"The Trolling of America."

Have t-shirts -- "I survived the HRC open mic night!" and "Trump is Trolling America" and "What Can One Woman Do In The Face Of So Much Reckless Hate" #lotrftw


Would all of this work? We don't know. We're spitballing here. The HRC campaign clearly thought it was winning and just didn't want to risk slipping. So they went with conservative social media.

But, they should have been doing this in 2015. We were already tired of people running for president 18 months before the election. Pay us back for our time with some fun. That is something Trump understood that others did not.

If you have been doing this shtick for a year and have been telling so many pantsuit jokes that Versace is making you one in day-glo velour, it no longer looks like some desperately pandering meltdown at the end when Putin and the FBI try to crush you. 

By then they like you. The really, really like you.

The only clearly funny thing Clinton did in 2015 was to call herself a "pantsuit aficionado." ONE joke only. And it is STILL playing! What if they'd tried for more? What if they'd paid better attention to how the campaign's fans wanted them to play things instead of what they debated via email?

The lesson for campaigns at all levels in the age of social media should now be clear, post-Trump. Stop trying to avoid failing. You've got to play to win. You have to bring a riskier game. 

It is about identification, engagement, connection, motivation, collection, turnout and love. Give them a reason to vote for you. Give them a reason to visit your website. Give them something they will want to share.

Be the thing people share. Be part of their networks. Be part of how they work their friendships. Make something they will share with people they love.

Watch the ad from Joni Ernst here to finish this up. There are huge risks involved in this. But this is how you win:

In case you were wondering, our Dallas trip was great. We didn't talk about social media the whole time, after all. But, as she spun her ideas on local and state races, having just finished working on one, and as I spun on the national race, as that's what my students were talking about, we really ended up agreeing an awful lot on the kind of approach folks need to take in political races at all levels. They are now more similar, those levels, than ever before. Everything is local and everything is personal.