7 Ways to Learn From Conan O’Brien

Guest Blogger: Mary Demuth

In the February 2011 issue of Fortune magazine, there’s an article entitled “Conan 2.0: How a late-night Luddite accidentally fought his way back into bedrooms (and computers, smartphones, and tablets) across America.” The picture below is featured in the article.

The article chronicles the rise/fall/resurrection of Conan O’Brien, carried on the wings of tweets. O’Brien was a reluctant Twitterer until a friend convinced him to try. This was after NBC moved The Tonight Show from 11:35 to 12:05, prompting his departure, and the subsequent frustration voiced by many of O’Brien’s followers on the Twittersphere and Facebook.

On February 24, 2010, O’Brien and his team opened a Twitter account. His first tweet: “Today I interviewed a squirrel in my backyard and then threw to commercial. Somebody help me.” At that time, O’Brien set a single-day record for Twitter followers. The article chronicles O’Brien’s social interaction, how he’s mobilized his demographic, and how social media has fueled his latest projects and successes.

Why is this important?

Because we’re moving away from an old model of promotion to a brand spanking new one. From TV celebrities as we knew them to TV hosts who highly interact with their fans. There are huge implications for authors.

7 Author Takeaways From the Article:

1. If Conan O’Brien, a self-proclaimed Luddite in the digital realm, can open a twitter account, so can you.

2. Old ways of promotion are waning. Interacting with readers with great content, them-focused tweets, and a slice of humor goes a long way.

3. You’ll never know how your tweets (or blogs or facebook statuses) will affect your career. Recently, I received an email from a publishing executive who follows me on Twitter. This opened the door for some very exciting possibilities. He’s been following me a long time.

4. Your words matter, even in little snippets. Make them interesting. View them as part of your writing habit. See them as furthering your career.

5. This kind of publicity is FREE. For cash-strapped authors, it’s worth our time investment to garnering facebook fans, twitter followers, blog readers, and ezine subscribers.

6. Being yourself in social media is extremely important. Conan is himself. I am myself. Don’t try to be Conan or me. Be you. Folks want authentic interaction.

7. Don’t despise a setback. Conan’s leaving The Tonight Show actually turned into an epiphany, then a renewed career. See roadblocks as redirections.

Q4U: What do you think? Is social media important for the author?

Mary DeMuth is the author of numerous books including the memoir, Thin Places. She blogs at http://www.marydemuth.com/.

Twitter: @MaryDeMuth
Facebook: facebook.com/authormarydemuth

  1. J Q Rose says:

    I joined Twitter in its infant stages and was appalled at the weirdos that came out of cyberspace to connect with me. I hope there is better security nowadays. So, I may try again, since I am more curious than ever about this amazing technology. Your blog spurred me on to investigate this Twitter of today. Thanks.

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  3. Ruth Madison says:

    >This was a very helpful post! I went and signed up for twitter and have been learning how to use it to help brand my name. It's going really well!

  4. Mary DeMuth says:

    >Kristin, that's a really good point.

  5. Kristin Laughtin says:

    >I think we can all learn a lot from Conan in how we handle ourselves publicly as well. Conan showed a lot of humility despite all the drama around The Tonight Show, and though he poked jokes at NBC (he is a comedian, after all), he refrained from being bitter and nasty. As authors, we will come under a lot of criticism. No matter how good a book we write, someone will give it a bad review and someone will write in to say they hated it. If we handle ourselves with class rather than falling into a rant or throwing a tantrum, it will show, and make us look all the better.

  6. Casey says:

    >I JUST joined Twitter and the last thing I want to do it write drivel. It's been a bit of struggle, but I appreciate Mary's post here. (I also follow you on Twitter. 🙂

    If I may ask… how important is it to follow the person back that follows you?? I have seen it go both ways and I was wondering on someone else's opinion. Thanks! 🙂

  7. Rowenna says:

    >Re #5: Be careful–social media marketing doesn't cost MONEY, but that doesn't make it FREE. It's an investment of time, one of a writer's most valuable resources. Use that resource wisely! Budget it. I'm not saying don't tweet or facebook or blog–but do so with purpose and with a plan, don't fritter time away because it's "free."

  8. Stephanie Reed says:

    >"7 Author Takeaways From the Article:

    1. If Conan O’Brien, a self-proclaimed Luddite in the digital realm, can open a twitter account, so can you."

    I didn't read any further than this. I rushed over to Twitter and signed up. I have a Facebook acct, but I'd been avoiding Twitter. I don't even know why. It's shorter than blogging, and we read about Twitter everywhere. But I'll tell you what, this post crystallized it all for me. Thanks, Mary! And thanks, Rachelle, for hosting. And of course, the obligatory now-you-can-follow-me-if-you-want
    link: https://twitter.com/#!/StefReedBooks

  9. Nicole L Rivera says:

    >I think it is very important, but not just for platform building. Writing can be lonely. Connecting with others who are going through the same process as you makes it less so.

  10. Laila Knight says:

    >Thanks to this post I've been discussing Tweeter with my co-workers all day…haven't gotten much done. The mindset is that Tweeter is just for celebrities, but it seems anyone can Tweet.

    At one time I scoffed at the whole idea of social networking. I even frowned on e-readers until a friend let me pet her Kindle.

    I've found out that there is so much knowledge to be gained from just hopping blogs alone. So why not the rest of the stuff? It's another way to ride the winds of change.

    Of course this means I won't be able to help myself. I'm going to have to experiment with it this weekend.

  11. Jill says:

    >I spend most of my time blogging. I like facebook, too, for connecting w/ old friends and family. Although I have a Twitter acct, I just don't get it. I don't get it at all. I don't know what to say and don't have the time to run around re-tweeting others' blog posts. What does it mean that I have to write for others on Twitter? Divine words of wisdom? Or what? Condensing the world/life/writing into 140 characters at a time is almost impossible for me.

  12. Eric says:

    >Is social media important? Yes.
    Is it the end-all-be-all? Not even close.

    I dare you, open a twitter account. Make posts, follow a bunch of people — mostly who are already your friends and associates. See where that gets you. You might get lucky.

    But, do you want to rest your career on luck? I don't. Sure, go out and do it, sure, make the most of it that you can, but don't rely on it. Traditional marketing paves the way and will drive people to your twitter account where they can follow you and where you can actually have some impact. But it's just about impossible to drive traffic through your twitter account using a twitter account. Getting noticed in the storm is purely a matter of luck without real marketing.

  13. Jan says:

    >Last post, promise:


    The reason I'm so excited about Mary's post is that I think as Christians, we tend to turn up our noses at social media. I know I did…expecting the Lord to bless my efforts without working "that hard." Yet, social media is where the public is at and I want to be right there, too, sharing Him.

  14. Neurotic Workaholic says:

    >I don't have a Twitter page, but even I visit Conan's Twitter page every day just because his Tweets are hilarious. I also love your statement about seeing roadblocks as redirections. I never thought of it in that way before. But seeing as how there are several roadblocks in my life right now, it's definitely good to keep a perspective like that in mind.

  15. Carrie L. Lewis says:

    >Social media is like anything else. A good thing if done in the right way at the right time and for the right reason.

    It can also be one of those things that sucks the life out of creative endeavors or sucks the time out of the day.

    I Facebook and started that only reluctantly because I already knew how much time computer work can take up. I'm still not convinced it's The Thing for my painting or writing career, but I have made some interesting contacts.


    I've learned to recognize those times when Facebook is a work-avoidance technique!

  16. Amber Argyle says:

    >I considered myself a Facebook fan. And then they made all their changes, basically no one sees you posts unless they click on your profile.

    Now I'm a Twitter fan. BTW, I LOVE the twitter hashtag chats. If you're a writer you should follow them (by saving the searches, then that hashtag will apear in your feed):
    #yalitchat –for ya writers

    and you can follow me too, if you want: http://twitter.com/#!/amberargyle
    Amber Argyle

  17. Chris Shaughness says:

    >Social media is here to stay and if we want to be successful, we must learn it and utilize it to the fullest extent. Time-consuming, yes! But if you make it part of your daily routine, it becomes more manageable. Our world is speeding faster and faster, and we must pedal to keep up or else get left in the dust.

  18. Michelle DeRusha@Graceful says:

    >Thanks, Mary, for a much-needed kick in the pants. I have a twitter account, but I certainly don't use it as I should. I'm guilty of the automatic post feed and that's about it. Although once I did have a fun twitter conversation about tomatoes with a fellow blogger, so the potential is there. One of my problems, I think, is that I haven't ventured into using HootSuite or TweetDeck. I need to get over my fear and get exploring.

  19. Cynthia Herron says:

    >Though it's indeed been baptism by fire, I'm getting a crash course in social media, Mary! I resisted it for a long time, but actually, now that I've finally come out of "stealth mode" I'm quite enjoying it. I'm somewhat of a newbie when it comes to FB, Blogging, etc., but guess I'll continue to learn…at least I better, as I've just reached a fantastic milestone!

    Thanks, Mary for your post this morning! It's just what I needed to start my day. I've never seen blogging and social media approached so simply!

    And thank you, Rachelle, for continuing to inspire us!

  20. Maril Hazlett says:

    >I got hooked on Twitter because of its enormous convenience – I treat it as a live news feed for me to follow the multiple print and online sources that I need to do my day job. Followers came second. I still am a bit shocked that anyone reads what I tweet.

    A couple of recommendations: Be clear on whether you are tweeting for business or personal reasons. You can even use one account to do both – I do personal tweets in the early morning, evening, or weekends, for example, and keep the work stuff for the day. Random observations of human nature (I office with defense attorneys, plenty of opportunity for those notes) seem to be welcomed at any time. You can also set up multiple accounts, ie, with TweetDeck (which is just an application to help you manage social media postings).

    Let me back up a bit – the line between business and personal tweeting is actually not that clear. My personal tweets occasionally seem to make some people treat my professional work as more credible, probably because followers feel they know me. However, it might repel some others, who knows.

    No matter what, I don't get TOO personal. The point is to relate to a community through insights, snippets, and questions, not to blather about how you just had a coffee or took a shower.

  21. Patricia Raybon says:

    >Well said, Mary. Twitter matters because it connects people. That's its power. So it's not the medium. It's our messages, and the connections that result–and I thank God for it all. And I'm an introvert!

    But God can use anything and anybody for his glory. Surely, he is doing that with Twitter!

  22. Jan says:

    >Can I add?: If you don't know what to tweet, (because we all are learning) go to twitter and open an account. Then when you read a blog post that you really like, most blogs will have a tweet button at the end of their post. Just click on it and it makes up a short blurb of their post. There you go – you just tweeted. Try it; you can't mess it up and if you do, you'll do it right next time. 🙂

  23. Kayeleen Hamblin says:

    >I really like this line: "See roadblocks as redirections." That's the take away for me. Thanks for this post.

  24. Sally Bradley says:

    >Seems like a lot of us haven't used Twitter yet. I've got an account, but that's it. Does anyone know of a good article/blog post that explains how best to use Twitter, TweetDeck, etc.?

  25. Ruth Madison says:

    >What do you say in a tweet? I feel like I'd let followers down if I didn't have brilliant and witty things to say every day 🙁

  26. Stacy says:

    >Very insightful post. I'm halfway through my novel and recently published my website and blog. I've been tweeting a few months now, and although making contacts have been slow, I've definitely gotten a lot of valuable info via links, etc.

    For an unknown with no platform, social media can be vital – the issue for me has been generating traffic, etc. Hopefully I will learn as I go:)

  27. Missy says:

    >I have not tried Twitter yet. I plan to. I do FB but just for fun. I took two weeks off of FB and had people contacting me telling me they missed my posts and that they made them laugh. That was pretty cool. Then my sister-in-law's mom commented that she loved reading my posts. My posts even became a discussin in my Sunday Bible Fellowship class. It's nice to know I have voice even if I'm just sharing the ups and downs of my life as a mom.

  28. Laura@LifeOverseas says:

    >Mary, great post about the value of social media! I love the encouragement to look at social media as part of the writing habit. I think the encouragement there is to make your tweets meaningful/funny/provoking– instead of just "Look at my new post at my blog."

    Good advice for me, myself, and I to follow!

  29. Kristy K says:

    >I agree it's crucial – but it's difficult to find a balance… building an online following consumed me last year, and I still don't feel like I've arrived yet. While I was building that following, my writing suffered. This year, I'm working on that balance.

  30. B.K. Jackson says:

    >THAT comment set a record for Twitter followers? Um…ok.

    Mystifying really.

    I will have to be dragged into social media kicking and screaming but eventually I know I will go. I've been trying to avoid it but have a feeling I'll take the plunge sooner rather than later.

    But the tweet example used shows how difficult it is to be interesting in these media forms. So it's not something I'd enter into lightly.

  31. Sue Harrison says:

    >Thank you, Mary. I love your suggestion to consider social network interaction as a way to build our careers. I still feel very new with Twitter, but am building a base of followers. On Facebook I'm having a ball.

    God bless!

  32. Lawrence J. Caldwell says:

    >I still have not plunged into Twitter yet. Should I wait until I have a book published or should I get going with the articles from mags and anthologies?

  33. Sharon A. Lavy says:

    >I have a lot to learn about the benefits of twitter. However I do have my twitter tweets go to my facebook acct and I do get responses. Maybe it is time to give tweetdeck another try.

  34. Anonymous says:

    >I am an author without a platform..I don't really even understand what twitter is, I have no blog, no website. I have a personal facebook page with a few friends but no page for my book. And yet, and yet, my book is popping up everywhere, and I am told that my reviews and interviews are being retweeted (whatever that means)and linked to on peoples facebooks. I guess it's the new word of mouth, and I'm very grateful for it, and very grateful that I don't have to do it myself

  35. Rosemary Gemmell says:

    >Thnaks for that fascinating insight into Twitter. I blog quite a lot, comment on loads of other blogs, and do Facebook, but I keep holding back from twitter as it's one more distraction from writing. Maybe that should change? Still thinking about it.

  36. Andrew says:

    >It's really not a matter of being a technological Luddite. ANYONE can learn the mechanics.

    It's still the hook, guys, to keep folks reading your tweets. Just like
    every query letter you've sent out, You have to have the hook.

  37. Melissa says:

    >I’m sure that social networking is important for writers. I just wish that it weren’t. I have so many other things to do than Twitter … but I make myself do it. And to be fair, I’ve met a lot of writer friends, and it’s fun to take a break and “chat” with them during the day. Blogs are another thing that I don’t seem to have time for. Facebook? Fallen by the wayside.

    What is this “Tweet Deck?” Oy! Another thing to learn?



  38. Melissa K Norris says:

    >I think the take away here is to learn what you can give your reader. It's about them and when we write with the reader in mind (even tweets and Facebook updates) then we'll connect with them.
    I'm just getting into Twitter and loving it. I'm a follower of both Rachelle and Mary. Love the little snippets into your lives.

  39. Jan says:

    >Mary, I had coffee last week with a dear friend who is also a media specialist. She pushed me a little, showed me how to use Tweet deck and Sunday when I tweeted for the first time about my blog book giveaway, I got over 150 views that day. My normal is 40. I'm a convert.

  40. Leigh D'Ansey says:

    >I think social media is probably crucial for authors but I'm finding my writing time is being eaten up as I try to establish an online profile. I do enjoy it though!

  41. Joanne@ Blessed... says:

    >Thanks for this Mary. I'm a Twitter-babe but finally learning the ropes.

    Rachelle was my inspiration. She encouraged me to use it. I was reluctant.

    As usual she was right.

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