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The Oatmeal: Why the BuzzFeed Story About Matt Inman Got It Wrong

By now Jack Stuef’s inflammatory post on BuzzFeed attacking Matt Inman, the creator of the stupendously successful website, The Oatmeal, has made the full rounds. I wasn’t even going to dignify it with a response until I saw that Inman himself published a reply. So here’s why you should ignore the BuzzFeed piece and go right back to enjoying the Oatmeal:

1. It’s written in attack mode

You can always tell when someone is out to slash and burn when they use loaded language to take someone down. Here’s the very first paragraph in the Buzzfeed piece: (Note: all emphases are the author’s, not mine.)

Matthew Inman boasts that his site, The Oatmeal, has received over a billion page views since he launched it in 2009, making it one of most widely read comics in the world. But Inman bears little relation to his lumpy everyman profile on the site, and the disconnect between that cheerful profile and his actual identity — an edgy comic and unapologetic online operator — collided this week after a rape joke made its way into his typically safe comic.

Notice the terms “boastful” and “unapologetic online operator”? These are labels designed to instantly brand Matt as unlikeable. And that’s just in the first paragraph.

2. The logic isn’t sound

In the very first sentence, Jack Stuef accuses Inman of bragging about a having huge audience, and in the next sentence, he accuses him of pretending to be an everyman. Which is it Jack? Is Inman a boastful jerk or an everyman pretender? If you’re going to accuse him of both, you might want to at least separate the claims by a few sentences, so we won’t notice.

The logic in the section about Matt’s history with SEO and Reddit is tricky at best. According to Stuef, Redditors were pissed at Inman for his tactics, but in the end he concedes that

…Reddit, apparently unable to resist a webcomic from a sharp traffic guru aimed squarely at them, resumed serving as a major source of traffic.

What did he do, hypnotize them? No. He created irresistibly GOOD CONTENT. The poor suckers.

3. Stuef is flogging a dead horse

Everyone agrees that Inman’s rape joke was a mistake, and his defensiveness about it compounded the error. But who among us has not made a mistake, been called on it, and then backed ourselves into an even worse corner as a result?

In the end, Inman apologized. And when someone has as much good karma as Inman does buzzing about the internet, he more than deserves that we accept his apology and move on.  Maybe he’ll screw up again later and then it’ll be strike two. But for now, enough is enough.

4. It reeks of jealousy

No one doubts that Inman has been enormously successful. Stuef seems to be angered by this. He writes:

Inman’s transformation from a reviled search-engine-optimization expert and marketer to a beloved comic artist was less dramatic than it sounds. Inman has described The Oatmeal as a kind of continuation of his Internet marketing work. He’s still making cartoons and quizzes carefully configured to go viral, but instead of doing it for clients, he’s now lining his pockets directly.

Again, watch the language. Since when are SEO experts “reviled”? Last I checked, they are well-paid professionals, who are an integral part of any smart digital marketing campaign. And as for “lining his pockets”, how is this different from “getting paid”? It’s not.

As a copywriter, I gotta hand it to Stuef; he did a great job of leading you down the path of doubt in this piece. It’s a well-executed hatchet job if I ever saw one. Stuef has a real future in politics.

5. He never bothered to interview Inman

Any good journalist – at the very least – owed him a call and a chance to tell his side of the story.  The fact that he didn’t bother to get Inman’s input is an inexcusable journalistic oversight.

6. It’s picking on the admirable

Stuef appears to complain that Inman (who has some very successful comics about grammar) uses an editor to make sure his grammar is correct.

Why is this bad? If ONLY everyone on the internet who passed himself off as a writer bothered with an editor! Stuef also says,

Unlike that of most successful webcomic artists, Inman’s work was not originally a labor of love, a slow process of honing one’s voice, developing an original perspective and take on the art form, and eventually building an audience. It was always business, always a play to known sources of Web traffic, whether for clients or for himself.

Yes, unbelievably enough Stuef is upset that Inman had the nerve to try to make money for his clients and – gasp – for himself. Oh, the horror!

Then he goes on to say,

When given the opportunity to speak in front of business-minded audiences, however, the former SEO mastermind has been unable to hold himself back. Speaking before a tech conference audience at Gnomedex in Seattle in 2010, Inman delivered a 27-minute presentation explaining his process for creating a comic or quiz for his website. His comics, the slideshow says, are created according to a formula aimed at pandering to the broad tastes of the Internet and social media, based on six core principles:
– Find a common gripe
– Pick things everyone can relate to
– Create easily digestible content
– Create an infographic
– Talk about memes and current events
– Incite an emotion

Wow Jack, first Matt is a “mastermind”, but then a “panderer”? Which is it?

I actually attended the Gnomedex conference in 201o that Stuef cites, and Inman’s presentation was the best one of the day. (I bet you can already tell that by the bullet points from Inman’s presentation that Stuel so helpfully included in his excerpt. I left them in there so you can borrow them too, because they are all great tips.)

After Inman spoke, I got a chance to chat with him briefly (no he doesn’t remember me, and we’re not friends on Facebook, although that would be pretty cool). The “mastermind” turned out to be a totally genuine guy, who had absolutely no way of knowing that his interaction with me that day would one day be reflected in this post.

7. The logic isn’t sound, redux

Stuef accuses Inman of owning a “sprawling retail business” in the same paragraph in which he reveals that Inman employs family members. Yes, that’s right, family members. Last time I checked, Wal-Mart is a sprawling retail business, and a mom and pop is a shop where you employ your family members.

Oh, and by the way, anyone who gets along with, let alone EMPLOYS their family members, gets good guy kudos in my book.

8. It takes issue with Matt’s exercise routine

Wait, what? That’s right Stuef is actually annoyed that Inman is a marathon runner while his main character is drawn as a couch potato. What’s he supposed to do? Draw his cartoon with a six pack and smirk? I’m betting Inman uses all that time running to develop his ideas, honing them and whittling them down to their very best before he ever puts pen to paper. (Yeah, I know it’s a computer, but work with me here.) If only everyone online spent that much time thinking through their posts.

9. More picking on the admirable

Stuef concedes that Inman gives to charity, but sneers even at that effort, because Inman was publicly gleeful about beating back a ridiculous lawsuit earlier this year. At least Stuef had the decency to concede that the lawsuit against Inman was baseless.

That’s great use of another persuasive copywriting trick, by the way. Always concede something to the competition so as to bolster the reader’s trust in your argument. I told you Stuef had a future in politics.

10. It leaves out critical detail

And what of Inman’s spectacular fundraising effort on behalf of the Tesla Museum? About this, Stuef is mum. Apparently, he couldn’t think of anything bad to say about Inman’s rescue of Nikola Tesla’s memory for the non-techie public. So he just didn’t mention it at all.

So, let’s recap. The real reason Stuef is pissed is because Matt Inman is young, smart, funny, fit, (somewhat) rich, famous-ish, and exceedingly successful in his chosen field. Hmmm, come to think of it, if I wasn’t so busy lining my office walls with Inman’s hilarious comics, I’d probably hate him too.

Don’t Write Twitter Off Just Yet

Recently, the always excellent Jay Baer, who speaks, writes and consults about social media, did an interview with Steve Lundin of Big Frontier about, well, social media. It’s a great interview and I highly recommend that you watch it. There’s just one thing…

During the interview Jay explains his belief that Twitter has become a sort of niche news service packed with useful links, but where real conversations have been severely compromised, and which only get increasingly harder to have as you get more successful at it. Maybe, but I think there are still plenty of ways companies can take advantage of Twitter to have excellent, on-brand, real-time conversations with influential individuals – especially if you market to moms.

Here’s my list of ways to use Twitter to connect with moms on-line:

1. Twitter Parties: It’s hard to think of a better medium for moms to get together and party than Twitter. After all, we are busy, tired, probably wearing sweatpants and have drastically different schedules depending on our kids’ ages. We also don’t love paying a sitter. Enter Twitter Parties: join when you can, from home, in between everything else that you are doing. Even better, since you are partying with other moms, if you get interrupted, everyone understands.

Indeed some of the very best, most active parties on Twitter are run by top mom bloggers and influencers, including Jyl Johnson Pattee of Mom It Forward’s Girls Night Out (#GNO) fame, Amy Lupold Blair of Resourceful Mommy; and Amy Bellgardt of Mom Spark Media, just to name a few.

Whether you are brand-new to Twitter or have been using it for years, it’s a piece of cake to hop onto a Twitter party related to your brand’s topic area and join in the conversation. And I do mean conversation.

Not into “mom” topics? That’s Ok, there are chats on Twitter about EVERYTHING, including travel (Travelers Night In is on Thursdays – just follow#TNI); food (Foodies Night In -which I co-host – is on Mondays at #FNIchat)… you get the picture.

So whether you run a hotel, a food exporting company or a local hair salon, the chances are pretty good there’s a Twitter party that makes sense for you. But don’t think of it merely as a way to get noticed. Think of a Twitter party as a way to LISTEN to your target audience. And if they talk about your competition, or if your competition shows up, please for goddsakes, LET IT RIDE. Unless you want to pay some fancy-pants marketing agency a fat fee for a competitive analysis. And even then it won’t be as good. Trust me.

2. Hashtags for Events: I know, I know for the really big events like Blog World Expo and SXSW, the hashtags are so overloaded with traffic, it’s almost meaningless. But there are plenty of small events where the hashtags are a GREAT way to listen, connect and yes, make an impression for your brand. This is particularly true of the smaller and mid-sized  mom blogger conferences.

Now this is important: If you are not actually at the conference, it is absolutely a great idea to follow the conversation via Twitter and LEARN. It’s also OK to jump in once in a while with RELEVANT comments. But it is absolutely, positively NOT OK to pretend you are there, hog up the stream, or send overt marketing messages. This is really bad manners, and if you get busted will result in a level of widespread ridicule you most assuredly do not want to incur.

Come to think of it, this is bad manners even if you are at the conference, so either way, DON’T do it.

3. Customer service. In many cases, this should be right up at number one on the list. If you do NOTHING else on Twitter but answer questions from current customers and prospects, then you are still putting it to good use. You would be AMAZED at how happy people are when they send a “help!” tweet and actually get a response. I have personally seen people turn 180 degrees around from, “This product sucks” to “Wow, what great service!” within just 24 hours. THESE are the people who go on to become your most passionate offline word-of-mouth advocates. Especially if they are under-appreciated moms. (And is there any other kind?)

So please, with a cherry on top, don’t give up on Twitter yet, OK?

How to Pick My Brain

Every free-lancer, marketer or entrepreneur faces this dilemma: How to deal with a slew of requests to have coffee and “pick your brain”. Here’s how I solved it:

First, let’s clear something up. I do drink a lot of coffee and eat lunch, but I generally do it sitting at my desk. My schedule as a mom who works full time,  freelances occasionally and volunteers at school when pressed, means my days are packed end to end. If I do have free time, it almost always happens after 10 pm when the three kids are asleep, and my house is (sort of clean) and my work is (mostly) finished. However, by that point my brain has just enough left in it to watch back episodes of Glee or Veronica Mars.

Which is to say that unless I’m having a hugely unusual week, if you wait until I’m available for coffee or lunch it’s never gonna happen.

I do, however, offer free “pick your brain” time every day, 7 days a week, from 6:30am to 7:15am — while I walk my dog. I never miss this appointment (dogs work that way), and although I normally use this time to listen to audiobooks or make phone calls to the East Coast, it’s the best guaranteed available space in my day.

When I first started doing this I was amazed at how many people took me up on it. After all, it rains 9 months of the year here in Seattle. Now, people just know that’s the best time to catch me, and some even bring their own pooches along too. The best part? I always learn at least as much as I share.

So, if a friend of a friend says I’d be a good person to talk to about writing copy, or social media or starting a business, I’ve got a built in way to respond within a reasonable time frame, while still respecting my busy schedule.

Got a “pick your brain” trick of you own? Share it.

Top 5 Most Annoying Things Parents Use Facebook For


As we get ready to ring in yet another New Year, here’s my round-up of 2010’s most egregious parental Facebook faux pas:

#5 Inviting friends to your child’s theater performance. Note: I do not want to go to your child’s play. Ever. If your kid makes it to Broadway, I’ll make it up to you by not asking for a free ticket to opening night.

#4 Posting the details of how fast your kid ran in the race, or swam in the meet. Ditto for how prodigiously talented they are at soccer, baseball, tennis or gymnastics. Photos are fine – crowing about your kid’s stats is not. That is what grandparents are for. Note: You get extra douche-bag points if you post your kid’s stats to people whose kids scored lower at the same event.

#3 Posting that your 3 year old can read, or, even worse, casually mentioning that your 2nd grader is enjoying the same book as my 5th grader. Don’t think for a minute I don’t know that this is you bragging at me while pretending not to.

#2 Soliciting donations for school and activity fundraisers, like the walk-a-thon, entertainment book, girl scout cookies and gift wrap. This is what aunts and uncles are for. Don’t you know we all have to buy the same school crap from our own kids? Sheesh.

#1 Requesting advice on what to do about the fact that your child has been asked to join the gifted program. As any parent whose child has not been asked can tell you,  the “gifted program” is a code name for the “program for socially maladjusted children”.

Blogging, Dead Puppies and Small Business

The biggest blogger and social media convention

The biggest blogger and social media convention

On the way home from Blog World Expo 2010, I met a lovely couple on the plane. The husband owns a small printing shop in Renton, WA, and we hit it off right away.

As we began chatting about our respective Las Vegas experiences, and I mentioned that I had just attended Blog World Expo, he asked me to explain a little about blogs and whether he, as a small business owner, should think about having one. Luckily for me, Jay Baer had delivered the precise answer to this question the day before in one of his two excellent panel discussions. (Jay is both the author of Convince and Convert, a superb blog on social media marketing, and co-author of the forthcoming book, The Now Revolution.)

Jay explained that asking if you should start a blog is like asking if you should buy a puppy. Like a puppy, if you don’t take very good and regular care of it, it’s gonna die.

Please don't kill me

Please don't kill me

What makes this story better than just a colorful shortcut to conveying the rigors of blogging? Normally, when a business owner starts by asking you about a strategy or a supporting tactic, the next step is to back up and ask, “So, Mr. Very Busy Small Business Owner, what specific business objective would you like to achieve with a blog?”

But according to the puppy analogy, the business goal doesn’t even matter. Why? Because there is simply no point in talking about deploying a strategy that the business has no hope of executing on.

I know what’s coming. You’re going to bust me on the fact that I hardly write in this blog at all. That’s true. I don’t use this blog to pretend I’m a leading thinker in the field (I’m not), or have any smashingly fresh analysis of the social media space to share with my professional colleagues. Right now, I use it for two things only:

  1. As a place to park information I think my clients and potential clients might find useful.
  2. As a place to demonstrate my writing chops and general style.

And for those two things, it does a pretty good job. But, let’s face it: that’s not nearly enough for most businesses.

The good news is this: There are plenty of other things small businesses can do VERY WELL to market themselves before turning to blogging. In this gentleman’s case, I have a pretty solid hunch he’d earn a lot more money, and more quickly too with a consistent email marketing effort. But each business has it’s own unique sweet spot, and anyone who tells you that a blog or a Facebook fan page will make or break you is lying.

So before you go and kill a few puppies, look around for that low-hanging, achievable fruit.

How To Market to Moms Online

SXSW Interactive Conference

SXSW Interactive Conference

Want to know how to reach women and moms online?

Please vote for and attend my SXSW panel, which is designed to teach exactly how, a company founded by a bunch of geeky guys, is earning the attention and eyeballs of millions of moms online.

Unfortunately, voting is a two step process:

  1. Register to vote here.
  2. Vote here

Thank you!

And if you are coming to SXSW, be sure to leave me a note below, so we can connect.

7 Ways To Improve Your Giveaway Contest: A Case Study

You would think giving away a free trip would be easy, right? After all, who  doesn’t want a free ride to something?

But it turns out that running a contest or giveaway takes more than just ready cash. If you want to use it to get noticed and inspire action, you need some detailed knowledge of how to execute a contest that will deliver the most viral juice.

Once in a Lifetime's "cloud" image of Israel

Let’s look at the currently-running contest by Once in a Lifetime (part of Stand By Us), a non-profit that promotes better understanding of Israel. To apply for their Free Trip to Israel contest, entrants must create a 1 minute video about why they should be chosen and fill out a detailed questionnaire.
Read more →

4 Simple Tips for Using Facebook for Non-Profits



I’m always amazed at what a terrible job most non-profits do with Facebook. After all, designing and executing a good website is expensive and requires some real internet marketing chops. But Facebook? They’ve already done almost all the design work and search engine optimization for you. Come on.

So if you’re an absolute Facebook newbie working at a non-profit, this post is for YOU. If you’ve already been around the block with Facebook a few times, clear out now and wait for the next post on more advanced Facebook marketing techniques. Or better yet, follow Mari Smith, who is the absolute goddess of all things Facebook.

Still here? Ok, this is going to take at least 30 minutes. Longer if you are diligent. So carve out some time and fix that lousy page now, before an important donor sees it!

Here’s how:

1. DO NOT use a personal page for your non-profit organization. Create an actual Fan page. Facebook actually calls these Official Pages now, but no matter. A personal page has all kind of limitations on it that a fan page doesn’t. How do you know which kind you have? Simple: If you have to click “add a friend” and get permission, that’s a personal page. If you can click “Like” and be instantly admitted, that’s a fan page.

A friend page looks like this

A friend page looks like this

Red Bull's Fan Page on Facebook looks like this before you "like" it

Red Bull's Fan Page on Facebook looks like this before you "like" it

2. Use the Info Tab: You see that little tab at the top next to the “Wall” tab above? It’s called “Info”. You know why? You’re supposed to put your information there! ALL your information, not just your website and phone number. Would you leave the “About” Tab on your website blank? Sheesh.

3. Add a Link to your website: The photo below is a screenshot of the far left column of Choose Spun’s Facebook page. (Choose Spun is not a non-profit, but it is a small business.) See the link to their website? You enter it in the summary description of your organization and the link will be live.  It works EVEN BETTER when you write something compelling, (like “Save a Life Today”) and link to the page on your site that best follows up on the message in the box (like the “How To Donate” page.) Do that right now.

See the link to

See the link to

4. Post Something. Preferably EVERY Day: Your fans have given you permission to talk to them and keep your organization top of my mind. Not posting is like having a free web ad and letting someone else use it. (And believe me, plenty of other organizations and companies will be happy to fill up your fans’ feed if you don’t.) So get on there and start sharing with your fans.

If you do a halfway decent job, they might even share back.

Copywriting That Sells: Or, I Don’t Care About Your Passion

Here’s a tip you can use to write just about anything better: Your customer doesn’t give a rat’s ass about you. Or your passion. Or your company’s mission. Your customer only cares about himself. Really.

So take a look at your website, brochure or any other marketing copy you are using right now. Do you have a sentence, or worse, a paragraph or page describing why you love what you do, or how passionate you are about your chosen career ?

Strike it out immediately. Now re-write it forcing yourself to answer WHY your customer should care. Voila, your copy is already 100% better.

Doubtful?  Check out these examples:

This is the FIRST paragraph of a website selling — get this — sales consulting services:

Howard writes about the art of selling. When not writing, he is consulting, teaching, or coaching business owners and professional service providers how to sell their expertise using the New Media Reality. He has been an Entrepreneurial Junkie since the 1960’s and is passionate about helping YOU sell more.

Now let’s see. The first sentence is about… Howard. The second sentence is about… Howard. The third sentence is about .. well, you get the idea. But, wait! Howard does want to help you, and you know that because he’s PASSIONATE about it. Are you sold yet?

(Howard also mentions a New Media Reality, which must be pretty important to him since it’s in Capital Letters. But since we have no idea what that is, it just sounds like jargony jargon to us.)

Too bad, because Howard looks like a nice guy, who probably knows more than a little bit about the art of face-to-face selling. But he waited until the very last words of his very last sentence to talk about you. Worse, even then, he didn’t give you any reason to believe him.

Ok, that’s an individual, now let’s look at a company website:

GreenPages Directory connects people seeking healthy options in their social, economic and physical lives with inspired innovators, conscientious entrepreneurs, innovative products and services, and the most current information, all aimed at making our world a better place.

When we focus on sustainable solutions together, we can begin to heal our planet at the same time we pursue profitable and ethical business opportunities.

Are you still awake? This writing provides excellent competition for Ambien, but it does absolutely nothing to convince a green business WHY they should pay the directory for a listing. Which, after all, is the whole purpose of this site.

If I run a green business on a tight marketing budget, the FIRST thing I want to know is how many more customers this listing will drive, how affluent I can expect those customers to be, and what kind of results other listers have experienced. It’s entirely possible that information is buried somewhere in this site, but I don’t care, because I’ve already bounced away to something else.

Each of these websites could do a much, much better job of winning new customers, just by telling the people who visit how the service will deliver what the reader wants – RIGHT AWAY.

Try it.

Then come back here and let me know how it turned out.

The Social Media Success Summit 2010

I’m spending the month of May attending the online-only Social Media Success Summit run by Mike Stelzner, the brains behind Social Media Examiner.

Mike is absolutely top-notch and his team of speakers are delivering great value with their content-rich presentations. If you are interested in social media, I highly recommend his site and his summit.

Can’t make the summit? Follow me on Twitter for live updates of key nuggets.