Always Be Branding: John Scalzi, Maureen Johnson, and Bill Barnes Give Social Media Advice at BEA

BEA is a bit weird to cover. I’m accustomed to comic-cons, so going into John Scalzi, Maureen Johnson, and Bill Barnes’ work of performance art, “The Worst Social Media Advice,” I expected giant lines and people dressed as Redshirts characters. Or perhaps at least regency dresses? But everyone was dressed normally. I was disappointed at first, but given that the panel was in one of the largest rooms, and it was nearly full ten minutes before start time, the enthusiasm of the audience made up for the lack of cosplay.

The tone of this panel was set immediately, with Scalzi approvingly noticing that they’d finally put the lights on. “But how’re they going to nap?” moderator Ron Hogan asked. Scalzi glared at him. “No one will nap. Everything we have to say is gold.”

And then Bill Barnes broke out the mandolin.

The panelists were John Scalzi (whose book Lock In will be hitting shelves on August 26th!), Maureen Johnson (author of The Name of the Star and Madness Underneath), and Bill Barnes (Co-author of Unshelved, the greatest library-based webcomic in history).

After they got their selfie taken care of, Bill kicked the panel off by serenading Maureen with an original mandolin ballad, set to the tune of Nat “King” Cole’s “Unforgettable.” Sample lyric: “In IRL we’re awkward and tongue-tied/ in social media we’re social butterflies/ Social Media (Scalzi repeats “Social Media”) Social Media/ No longer nerds/Masters of words/Social Media.” You can listen to the whole song below:

Like all true wisdom, the panels ideas were communicated through a bulleted list. I will attempt to take you through each item, with the panelists’ commentary.


You MUST be on social media.

This isn’t even worth a discussion. Obvi.


ALWAYS promote your brand.

Scalzi: “You’re not a person anymore. Nothing about you is interesting, except that you’re a brand.”
Bill: “Having a brand is efficient! All true complexity has been reduced to an elevator pitch.”
Scalzi: “I don’t have time for anything else. I’m a man on the move.”


Promote yourself CONSTANTLY.

Scalzi: “As the author of Lock In I have this to say—”
Bill: “Is it a good novel?”
Maureen: “It’s a fine novel.”
Scalzi: “Speaking as the Hugo-winning author of Redshirts, you have to let people know about your work all the time. As the author of Old Man’s War, soon to be adapted into a film, I’m saying to you that nobody is interested in anything but what you can bring to the table to impress them.”
Maureen: “Tweeting…. twice per day? That’s not enough. All the followers you had an hour ago? They’re all different people now. You need to adapt.”
Ron Hogan: “You exist to buy our products.”
Bill (to the audience): “How many of you have bought a book of Scalzi’s?”
Many hands went up.
Maureen (to the audience): “How many of you have stolen a book of Scalzi’s?
Many more hands went up.
Scalzi: “The fires of hell await you.”


ALWAYS let people know what you’re selling.

Scalzi: “It’s a popularity contest. How many Twitter followers do you have, Maureen?”
Maureen: “I have 100,000 Twitter followers.”
Bill: “I’m just popular in real life.”
Scalzi: “Real people don’t count, Bill. Your mom doesn’t count […] The people who follow you cannot follow anyone else. By law. What’s important is that I’ve defeated every other author out there.”
Bill: “It’s also important to remember that tweets and Facebook likes have an
intrinsic value.”


Try to make EVERYONE happy.

Maureen: “Don’t have any personal position, or variations of temperament. Do not do anything new. Just repeat the name of your book until people start crying.”


NEVER take positions on anything, or talk about current events; IGNORE them.

Bill: “Social issues? Should you make a stand?”
Scalzi: “Social issues, Bill? It’ll blow over. There is no reason to stick your neck out for anything. I’ve been online for 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve ever expressed an opinion, ever. Why be a troublemaker? Why be that guy?”
Maureen: “The one thing the internet doesn’t care about is news. Cat pictures. That’s the way to go.”
Scalzi: “But even then, just post the cat picture. Because if you say, ‘This is a cute cat…’”
Bill: “That’s taking a stand. And you don’t want to do that.”
Maureen: “Oh! And people love puns.”


Respond to EVERY criticism and win EVERY fight.

Scalzi related a brief, elevator-pitch-length anecdote about researchers dyeing monkeys pink, to prove that pink monkeys will be attacked for their perceived weakness. He didn’t cite any particular papers or universities, because who has time for that? He concluded: “If you lose a fight on the internet, you are a pink monkey. If someone has a variance of opinion, you hunt them down, and you make them hurt.”
Maureen: “Follow social issues, and respond to every one of them, and say ‘You’re stupid.’ That is a great icebreaker.”
Scalzi: “Ad hominem attacks are good.”
Maureen: “Women especially, we don’t get that enough.”
Scalzi: “Speaking as a straight white male…. I have some experience here”
Maureen: “Can I ask a—”
Scalzi: “No, no you can’t. Let me speak. I think I’ve earned the right to speak here!”
Bill: “Isn’t that sexist?”
Scalzi: “You’re sexist for suggesting that! Now, if I can continue. White light is comprised of all the other colors. As this light, so is the white male the amalgamation of all the world.”
Maureen: “Wait, all men are—”
Scalzi: “NOT ALL MEN. As a straight white male, I know how all of you feel all the time. In conclusion, listen to me.”
Maureen: “But isn’t it possible—”
Scalzi: “NO NO NONO NO NO NO. Wait until I’m done.”
Maureen: “I thought maybe…”
Scalzi: “Why haven’t you made me a sandwich yet??” He sighed in frustration, but then allowed, “Now you may speak.”
Maureen (whispered): “I love you.”


BEG for likes, retweets, faves, etc.

Bill: “It’s not enough to write a funny tweet, you have to ask people to retweet it. Beg for friends!”
Maureen: “Blind requests to promote your product? I love that. I blindly retweet everything, and so should you.”
Scalzi: “If you don’t, it’s just rude. Plus? Quid pro quo.”
Maureen: “That’s how you make a better internet.”
Scalzi: “All 60,000 of my followers retweet everything I say, and thank God, because what else am I?”
Maureen: “Don’t forget: famous people can make you famous.”
Ron Hogan: “So you should identify famous people, and befriend them?”
Scalzi: “As I was saying to my good friend to Neil Gaiman, ‘It’s so nice that we have this personal relationship.’ And Neil Gaiman said, ‘Remember, you don’t just have this relationship with me, you also have this relationship with Wil Wheaton and Amanda Palmer.’ And it’s a good point, because who am I, if not the friend of Neil and Wil and Amanda? It’s the commutative property of awesomeness.’”
Bill: “It feels awesome.”
Maureen: “It feels nice. I value our friendship, in terms of what it gets me.”


Be who you think consumers want you to be! Conform to the consumer and NEVER be true to yourself.

Ron Hogan: “So you should shape your brand to your consumer?”
Bill: “Ask yourself: ‘What will people like?’ And just write that, endlessly.”
Maureen: “Personally? I need to feel as dead inside as possible. Then as I work, I can tick off a few more seconds until my death.”
Scalzi: “Trending tweets! These are awesome. You don’t have to know anything about the issues, you just need to know what people on the internet are thinking, and you need to get you some of that! And remember: whatever you have to say has value.”
Maureen: “I have one question…”
Scalzi (turns to her, looks into her eyes): “What is it?”
Maureen: “I…I was not expecting that.”
Scalzi: “I know. Every once in awhile you need to be magnanimous.”
Bill: “Is this the most sarcastic panel at BEA?”
(There was a scream from the audience: “This is sarcasm?”)
Bill: “The thing to remember is that the internet is completely ephemeral. Everyone will forget it.”
Maureen: “Definitely nobody screencaps anything…”
Scalzi: “You can delete anything you want. If you delete, it’ll be as if it never existed… There is no downside to the internet, ever. And if anyone disagrees with that you argue with them until they die.”


Follow EVERYONE who follows you!

Ron Hogan: “Should you follow everyone who follows you?”
All three, in unison: “ABSOLUTELY”
Scalzi: “It’s like a marriage. It’s a commitment, and a trust.”
Bill: “On Twitter, you mate for life.”
Scalzi: “And if you don’t? That’s offensive. I’m offended you even asked that question.”
Maureen: “And if there are any problems in your career, go to the internet.”
Ron Hogan: “Of course.”
Scalzi: “The most efficient way to talk to my publishers, my editors, my daughter, is through a filter of strangers. Because I can get them to gang up. My publisher has no interest in me whatsoever. No interest in my books succeeding. The best way to speak to that Tom Doherty fellow is to tell the internet that he’s gonna drop my book and I hate him, I hate him forever, my precious.”
Bill: “And you should use his Twitter handle?”
Scalzi: “Of course. That’s standard corporate practice.”
Maureen: “Like ‘reply all.’”


Truly, this is the wisdom of the ages, and we must all work to follow these pearls, and build ourselves a better Agora.


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