How I Lost A Million Dollars Ignoring Donald Trump

Confessions Of A Social Media Denier

It wasn’t until Donald Trump came crashing onto the political scene in 2015 that I really saw the value of a social media platform. To be honest, I thought he was having a laugh that summer… and to some extent I still do.

But having become a serious contender for the most powerful position in the world, it’s clear that the man knows something about creating a persona, a rhetoric, and most importantly, a loyal following. Had I been aware of his strategies a few years ago, I would be up at least a million dollars… and probably even more. More on that shortly.

While it’s hard to separate the man from the message, Trump’s political agenda is not actually what’s important here.

What’s important is how he has leveraged his position and following to become a serious candidate for President of the United States of America… and how the less famous among us can use the same principles to create our own rise to power or profit.

You see, the reason I was so nonplussed about social media when it first became popular was that it seemed like you had to be famous or have an existing following for it to be of any real use.

Even though I’d been hired to do the marketing for a social network startup in 2004, and had played around with Friendster, MySpace, Facebook and Twitter in their early days, I didn’t appreciate their potential at the time. I didn’t realize that you could create the kind of momentum celebrities get on social media with a few simple systems.

It’s these systems that Trump has used again and again throughout his career. He has had a specific methodology for attracting attention and support ever since he got started – to the extent that he outlined them for anyone to use in The Art of the Deal, a book he published in 1987. He has been a controversial figure for many years, and his strategies are not new – today he just has more channels on which to use them.

Trump’s Principles For Persuasion

  • Know who you’re talking to, and be vocal about the issues your audience cares about
    • Trump knows that liberal upper-class types are not his audience. He’s not campaigning to win their vote – he’s campaigning to win the vote of lower-middle class folks who are disillusioned and struggling, and who want a common enemy to blame.
  • Know what you stand for – have a strong grasp on your brand
    • He’s the ‘outsider’ in the political race, and he’s playing it to his advantage. He’s not one of the stuffy career politicians who’s out of touch with what’s really happening in America – he’s the voice of the people who are never heard.
  • Be comfortable being outrageous
    • Trump exploded onto the political scene with his comments about building a wall to divide the US from Mexico. He got insane amounts of coverage from that one comment, and people have been hanging off his every word to hear what he might say next. It’s kept him in the press, and the presidential race, better than any other stunt he could have pulled.
  • Back yourself
    • Trump doesn’t need facts to be believed. He delivers everything with so much confidence and bluster that journalists can’t call him out, and punters believe and listen to him. He won’t be bullied or silenced, he’s not worried about being PC, so his audience feels like he’s got their back – even if the rest of the world hates him.

Putting the Principles Into Play

Now, if I’d been more willing to give social media more of my attention, I might have ended up where Mike Cernovich is today. After a few years of quietly building his business, he took a page out of Trump’s playbook… and has added hundreds of thousands of dollars to his bottom line in the last year.

Mike had been blogging a lot for several years, but his explosive growth has occurred in the last 9 months when he saw the Trump phenomena taking off. He created media divisions for his business that created unique content for each of the platforms he was active on, which in turn allowed him to cultivate a celebrity persona appropriate to each audience.

Turns out the people on Twitter loved that persona. He is intentionally controversial and inflammatory, which garners a lot of attention. And not just attention – his audience is paying him good money to keep writing.

He’ll clear a million dollars from this audience within a year or two, and will be able to keep ‘feeding the beast’ as long as he feels like it. He’s got the audience and attention now, and I’m going to break down how he did it below.

A word of warning here:

Mike is right out on the edge with his implementation of these strategies. Going to the edge is dangerous. People fall off edges and get cut by them. Copying Mike is not for the faint of heart. It’s not for you if you don’t have a very thick skin, and it’s not for you if your business is going to be damaged by controversy.  I don’t have that thick of skin so what I’m doing and suggesting is getting a bit edgy, but not to the cutting-edge.

Be Yourself… Plus A Bit More

Now, I’d been saying for years that the key to successful podcasting was to be yourself, plus a bit more. Had I done that on Twitter, I might not have lost that million (and I’ll tell you how that happened in a moment).

A key part of creating this character comes from how you behave online, particularly in the content you produce and engage with online.

Mike has built a lot of momentum via Twitter, and he breaks down how he does it in his post, How To Write A Viral Tweet, which I strongly suggest you go and read.

Again, if you go down Cernovich’s route, employment will get really tricky. Traditional business owners won’t come near you. Here’s what he has to say about it:

“If you Tweet like I do, you will never have a ‘legitimate’ job ever again. Until you have a business model built around your writing, stay safe by talking about double standards in a civil tone.”

1. Mike willingly goes to controversial territory, posting about it himself, retweeting and responding to other people to get the most reach possible. Scroll through his Twitter feed and you’ll see what I mean.

Please note that I don’t endorse the content of his tweets.  But there is power in studying someone going farther than I’d ever dare.

What I’m looking at are the techniques to find a way to really engage with an audience on Twitter. I’m just trying to do it without ‘shitposting’ and making the Internet worse than it already is.

2. He stirs the pot. He finds a popular meme or trending topic and lobs in a hand-grenade to get people to react – thereby extending his reach and visibility:

Resist Capitalism

3. He creates an us-vs-them mentality — he & his followers are positioned as the smart, in-the-know thinkers while people who disagree are uneducated idiots.

This flips the mainstream media belief that Trump’s supporters are the uneducated ones… Mike is reversing the narrative here and lobbing it back out for his haters to handle. This strategy generates a lot of attention because it startles people and forces them to re-examine their beliefs.

(Amy Hoy is another online persona who takes a narrative and flips it. More on her later.) Here’s an example of Mike building that us-vs-them mentality:


These strategies are working for him, too. His reach and audience is expanding exponentially.

Mike published his Twitter Analytics for March, and as you can see, it’s growing fast:
Cernovich 1

Then he published his analytics from the first week of of April, just two weeks later… and it’s exploded. At the time of writing, he had nearly 40,000 followers and his profile visits were double the last count:

Cernovich 2

Clearly, Mike is playing the game, and he’s winning. The principles learned from Trump’s playbook are creating massive exposure for his brand, and he’s capitalizing on it.

I like to say that when podcasting, you should create a character that is you, plus a little extra – “Persona Plus”. Mike went with a lot extra.

Recently I’ve been starting to ramp up my own online “Persona Plus” — being a bit more rambunctious and controversial than I am in the real world, though I’m not quite at the level of Trump or Cernovich. Here are my Twitter Analytics from a similar timeframe to those shown above from Cernovich.

This was after about 2 weeks of testing some of Cernovich’s techniques:

TC 1This was after continuing his techniques for another 2 weeks:

TC 2

My stats are tiny by comparison, but as you can see, after implementing a few techniques I had 48% growth in views of my tweets.  Another two weeks later I increased my tweet impressions from 68,000 to 97,400, doubled the number of people who viewed my profile which links to my site, and increased engagement (Mentions) by 41%.

Looking at these number is what made me realize I’d lost that million dollars. Because I was unwilling to take my own advice about being “Me+” on social media.

I missed out on about 8 years of this kind of growth. If I had created just one book, and it sold only half as well as Mike’s, I would have earned over a million bucks and would have a huge following.

And given how much I charge for my services, how much did I really leave out there by being a social media denier for such a long time.

$1 million per year? Maybe… Definitely.

This is A Game With Consequences

To be honest, there’s a bit of fear that comes with going down this route. Stepping up to lead an audience stirs up a lot of anger and hatred… and doing it in a larger-than-life style significantly amplifies that hatred.

Both Trump and Cernovich cop a lot of unfiltered vitriol… but both of them have mastered the art of turning it around to build even more momentum. More hate, more attention, more visibility, more traffic, more sales.

If you are going to build an audience with this “Persona Plus” method, there’s no way to avoid the haters. Even if you’re not purposefully controversial or inflammatory, all you have to do is stand for something, and they’ll find you and hate on you. Never back down or apologize for taking a stance – it just makes them relentless.

Some people say you shouldn’t feed the trolls online. But if you do it right, the trolls will feed you. If you put these principles to use, you should expect to cop some flack for it and and insulate yourself appropriately, but your online persona can become a powerful channel to grow your brand and your business.

Here’s How To Do It Right

Cernovich outlined a few simple frameworks for getting your “Persona Plus” off the ground in this post about how to write a viral Tweet. In a nutshell, he advises finding some double standard that will grate on your audience, point it out, Tweet about it and related issues frequently. I’d add a few things:

  • Create a common enemy.
    • This builds the ‘us-vs-them’ mentality I touched on earlier. Attack the enemy relentlessly to bring more people to your audience, to rile up your existing followers and bond them to you as a fearless leader.
    • Amy Hoy has done a great job of this in the startup space, writing a counter-narrative to taking venture capital funding to grow a startup. VC funds and tech media deride self-funded startups as “lifestyle” businesses, while Amy showcases the businesses ruined by VC funding, compared to companies who bootstrapped, stayed in control and have built serious, sustainable businesses.
  • Create a common language and culture.
    • In-jokes, abbreviations, group challenges or competitions… anything that makes your audience feel part of the in-crowd is powerful and will attract attention. This creates a cycle of more followers and more engagement, which brings more followers and more engagement, and so on.
    • Twitter polls are an easy way to engineer this. Funny polls get more engagement than serious polls, so only do the serious ones when it’s important.
  • Don’t simply tweet at your audience.
    • Converse with them. If you’re just pushing your blog post announcements to Twitter and that’s it, then you’re doing it wrong. Twitter is best utilized as real-time communication in both one-to-many and one-to-one engagement.
  • Leverage other people.
    • Find well-known experts on an important topic (inside your industry is fine, though it’s even better if they’re outside it) and tweet your strong opinion for or against something they’ve tweeted. Then engage with their audience when they start chiming in on your opinion. You may even get the expert as a follower, or even as a friend if you play it right.
  • Go off-topic:
    • Reading about the same thing all the time is boring as hell and your audience will fall asleep. Engage in things of interest to you and your audience, even if it’s not about your business or usual topics.
    • Most people won’t do this because they’ll be worried the topic they tweet about will alienate potential customers. But if you really understand your ideal client and your ‘us vs them’ then the people you alienate won’t be buyers anyway.
  • Tailor your approach to your audience.
    • You don’t need to be aggressive or inflammatory for this methodology to work. You could be in the knitting business and still build your following this way – people who are passionate about things will follow someone with a clear voice and a strong opinion.

These principles can create powerful momentum for your brand and business. They can completely transform your life, but they’re not for the faint of heart. Your online persona might not be you, but people will think it is.

If you’re going to use these principles, you have to commit 100% — there’s no room for self-doubt or soft underbelly. When you lead an audience, you have to back yourself completely, and be ready to fight for your position.

There’s no real competition out on the edges, so if you’re willing to go there, you’re already leagues ahead.

I have a “secret” group for entrepreneurs who want to get business knowledge and experience from the edge. Join The Forge today.

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1 Comment

  1. Fair article – I’ve been a supporter of Mike for ages and i think you miss the biggest point that Mike picked up on and he did it perhaps before anyone else on the internet. It’s this: SJWs, cucks – don’t have any capital, they don’t buy stuff.
    People on the right have more disposable income than those on the left, they’re a better audience. Being a virtue-signalling SJW might get you lots of re-tweets buy it won’t get you any $$$. Cernovich gets it.

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