The new year is generally an opportunity to take a look at your life and consider new ways to make it even better. It’s also an opportunity to look at all of your social media accounts and ask yourself two critical questions: 1) Should I delete all of my accounts and aim for a happier life? or 2) Should I resolve to work on ways to make my presence on social media more productive and meaningful?
If you’re someone asking the second question, you’ve come to the right place.
Many people have asked me where the idea of Twitter’s @DRUNKHULK came from. Unlike most superheroes, the origin story for Drunk Hulk is pretty low-key.
One October morning in 2009, I had just finished writing a short story at Starbucks (yeah, I’m that guy – deal with it!). And I wish I could explain to you the process of what happened next, but somewhere along the way I was thinking about the Hulk.
I considered the idea of what he’d be like drunk and melancholy. I found some comic panels of the Hulk dizzy and then vomiting. I thought of Twitter. I saw that “@DRUNKHULK” was available. I created the account.
All of this happened in a span of about five minutes. I say this to you to explain that I honestly put so very little thought into Drunk Hulk that it’s embarrassing.
At 11:19 am, I tweeted: HULK DRUNK!
I had a few other tweets in mind for later, but I didn’t know what he’d be saying the following day, let alone the following week. I figured that this would be a nice little diversion to clean out my head before starting the next short story I wanted to tackle.
I didn’t expect that by the end of the week a couple hundred people would be following Drunk Hulk, a thousand by the end of the month, and three thousand by the end of the year. I spent most of my life writing, hoping for readers to give my work a chance, and the moment I started writing in ALL CAPS in broken English, they started paying attention.
All that said, there are some things you can plan for and take control of. Let’s take a quick look at some of the things I’ve learned with Drunk Hulk along the way.
As of 2017, there are over a billion Twitter accounts and over 300 million active users. 500 million tweets are sent every day – an average of almost 350,000 tweets a minute. Twitter users have an average of 208 followers.
Furthermore, most people are engaging on Twitter with their mobile devices (80%), and those screens are small. People’s tolerance for scrolling down, especially on a phone, is limited. This means that if people miss the tweet after 20 minutes after it’s been posted, there’s a very high chance that it’ll be missed all together.
That’s why I generally write tweets between 15:00–23:00 GMT+1 here in Poland, which makes it 9:00–17:00 EST in the States — this is where most of my audience is. This is when that 20 minute window allows the most sunshine in the room.
Remember, tweeting is one of the most ephemeral ways of communicating. It’s just a bunch of us screaming at the top of our lungs in the dark. So pay attention to who your audience is and when they’re usually online. Once you have that figured out, tweet during the hours that will allow the most people in that audience to hear what you have to say.
Back in the dark times, we only had 140 characters to write with on Twitter. These days, we’re in the wild frontier with up to 280 characters to play with. At this rate, our grandchildren should have access to 560 character technology.
The first rule I gave myself with Drunk Hulk back in the day was to never tweet more than 126 characters. I did this for three reasons — 1) to make the writing more challenging; 2) to help keep the tweets short; and 3) to make it easier for those who RT.
Now, obviously the game has changed with Twitter’s new character limit. But it needs to be stressed that just because you can write 280 character tweets doesn’t mean you have to. Clarity and quality are still key qualities.
I’m a big believer in writer Warren Ellis’ concept of burst culture. I believe that narrative bursts (whether we’re talking fiction, music, YouTube clips, etc.), rather than being limited or underdeveloped compared to longer works, create new avenues of communication and exploration that can’t be achieved any other way. Done right, a tweet can hold the same power as a long novel, and can stay with a reader the same way a favorite movie does.
The most successful Drunk Hulk tweets tend to be the ones where he’s reacting to something happening in real time. One that comes up again and again is when Drunk Hulk announced that Gaddafi had been killed. Out of blind luck, Drunk Hulk happened to be one of the first people to announce the death on Twitter. Even Anthony Bourdain admitted that he “gets all of his breaking news via Twitter, and learned about Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi‘s death in 2011 via the oddball/awesome account @DRUNKHULK.”
Drunk Hulk was also one of the first feeds to announce the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Obamacare. I managed to tweet the correct decision before CNN and FOX News did, and I was just some guy sitting in front of a computer in Poland with two jokes ready depending on which decision was made.
If you react to something that’s happening in real time, especially with a dose of humor, your followers will do the rest of the work for you. No one’s really interested in your thoughts on something that happened yesterday, especially on Twitter. The timeline is moving too fast for that.
What people really want is to be the first in their circle to announce news, especially when it’s news that’s worth being emotional about (IF DRUNK HULK WANT TO WATCH ALL HIS FAVORITE BRITISH PEOPLE DIE! DRUNK HULK WATCH GAME OF THRONES! SCREW YOU 2016!).
This is something that took me a lot longer to figure out than it should have. People love it when you respond to them on Twitter. It’s so gloriously simple that I think most of us don’t realize it. I don’t respond to everyone, but when there’s an opportunity to reach out, I try and take it. People are adding and dropping feeds all the time, and if they’ve had a connection with you — no matter how brief — they’re more than likely willing to keep following you.
Twitter isn’t a place where you can expound on your mind-blowing ideas. That’s what therapy is for. While Twitter has a lot of useful advantages, it’s most successful trait is its ability to communicate humor. Comedians like Steve Martin are huge on Twitter and I think a lot of it has to do with the simple fact that their humor was basically tweeting long before there was such as thing as Twitter (I mean, why isn’t Steven Wright a Twitter superstar? His jokes have been waiting decades to be tweeted).
Life can be a real chore sometimes. Most people on Twitter are sitting at work, running errands they don’t want to do, or stuck in a day (or year!) they wish was over already, and if you can make them laugh with one sentence, you’re providing them with a priceless gift.
This is why it’s amazing so many talented writers and artists use their feed as a platform to complain about everything. I get that people have a bad day now and then, but if your default setting is miserable, you might find Twitter to be a lonely place. Why would I want to read your book or listen to your music if your Twitter feed can’t provide me with anything remotely positive?
Make people laugh and they will follow. And on top of that, they’ll consider what you want to sell because they already feel like you’ve given them something. They’re not just buying something from you, they’re paying you back for what you gave them.
Despite what I said above, please remember that humor is a point of view. This means that if you’re cracking a joke about politics or religion, half the room is laughing and half the room isn’t. There is no universal laugh.
When I made an Obama joke, people complained that they didn’t realize Drunk Hulk was Republican. When I make a Trump joke, people are turned off that Drunk Hulk is liberal. Many of the jokes I’ve made as Drunk Hulk have attacked people, ideas, institutions that I fully support or believe in. Hell, when I’m on stage I do so many jokes about bacon and cheeseburgers that people feel betrayed when they find out I’m vegetarian. The biggest difference between me and the audience I offend is that I’m not afraid to laugh at myself.
A celebrity or politician is a shortcut to make a point. I tend to take a shot at whoever is in the spotlight that will best serve the joke. If I did the joke last week, it probably would’ve been someone else. Yesterday’s Hilton is tomorrow’s Kardashian. It’s never personal.
If you’re on Twitter to sell something, remember that humor is one of the best ways to connect with people, but it’s also one of the easiest ways to lose them. I’m not asking you to neuter your material or become Twitter’s answer to Jimmy Fallon, I’m telling you this because when the complaints start coming in (and it’s inevitable), you have to step back from it and not take it personally.
When you get tweets from people attacking you — because you will — your pride will convince you that the best course of action is to respond. Ignore your pride. This might be the hardest thing in the world to do, but if you engage in an argument with someone on Twitter you. will. never. win. You will never create the perfect insult that will make that person cry and stop. You will never tweet a statistic that will change that person’s political/religious belief. You will never have a fight on Twitter and come out looking good. If you really want to upset or annoy someone who attacks you on Twitter, simply ignore that person. I promise you that will do far more than anything you can write in 280 characters or less.
Because this needs to be stressed these days:
Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk! Don’t be a jerk!
This might be the most important part. You’re probably on Twitter to sell something. It could be something you made or you could be selling yourself (we all want to be liked, after all). I think everyone implicitly understands this.
I’ve spent a long time online trying to get people to read and/or buy my stories and books in ways that basically amounted to “Look at me! Please! By all that’s holy! Look at me!” I tried a lot of different approaches, but most people could see right through what I was trying to do. Basically, I started blogs and Twitter feeds for all the wrong reasons.
With Drunk Hulk, I never expected it to be anything but a quick distraction. I didn’t plan to be working on it for a week, let alone all of these years. I know it’s probably a coincidence, but I like to think that one of the reasons why it blew up was because I was sincerely having fun. I don’t think I’ve had such a good time with any of my writing until Drunk Hulk came along.
Drunk Hulk changed my life. All because I wasn’t frantically worrying about how I could get readers to check out my work. And the reality is, people are now reading my stories, more than ever before. Not because I begged them to, but because I was simply having a good time.
That’s what I’m going to sign off with. Make yourself happy first and the rest will sort itself out. When you focus on doing positive things for yourself, you’ll find yourself far less disappointed in life. And when an opportunity happens along the way, it’s a beautiful bonus, like when the bartender surprises you by saying, “It’s on the house.”
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