I let the cat out of the bag earlier today when I told you that my new job has me providing content for Mr. Conservative. The site is the brain child of a young man named Cyrus Massoumi. Because he is a Marin native, exactly a year ago (March 12, to be precise) the Marin IJ sat up and took notice of what he had achieved. Although the original article is no longer on-line, here is the pertinent part:
According to Quantcast, a company that estimates Internet traffic for advertisers, approximately 797,000 people visited Massoumi’s mrconservative.com website last month, and his linked Conservative Facebook website has more than 1.4 million fans.
Massoumi said he has no political ax to grind, although his partners may feel differently.
“I’m just a businessman. I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in politics,” Massoumi said. “All I want to do is make my money, get the life that I want and get out of the system. It’s a numbers game to generate traffic. If liberal news generated traffic, then it would be liberal news.”
Massoumi attributes the popularity of his sites to the way he engineers their content “based off of people’s desire to see it.” Mr. Conservative.com‘s story, “The Tax System Explained in Beer,” was a big hit on both Facebook and Twitter.
“We take boring generic news and turn it into something that is going to have extremely high social media sharing,” he said.
Massoumi said he often selects stories that are already popular or “top trending” on Facebook and Twitter, re-engineers them to make them even more appealing and then serves them up to his Facebook fans.
In other words, at this time last year, Mr. Conservative was one of the biggest websites that nobody had heard of.
Midway through the year, because Cyrus and his partners had to work out some differences, Cyrus let Mr. Conservative lapse. He picked it up again around October and, by September, was ramping up traffic all over again. Not to put too fine a point on it, he is a genius at driving traffic. He has an incredible understanding of the way the internet works (both in terms of driving traffic and getting advertising) and the way readers’ minds work.
Through skillful advertising and other promotions, Cyrus gained Facebook friends (634,000 and counting), and through a real knack for picking and then publicizing his blog’s content, these Facebook friends regularly check out his articles — and I mean regularly. I wrote a post yesterday afternoon about Hugo Chavez’s death. Cyrus took that post, added a photoshopped image from a Benetton ad that shows Chavez and Obama kissing, shilled the post on Facebook — and it now has 18 thousand likes. Another post I did just a couple of days ago, about a high school kid who was suspended for disarming an enraged teen with a gun has garnered 49 thousands likes as of this writing.
These are extraordinary numbers. And it’s not my ego talking when I use the word “extraordinary.” I do not feel that these likes (and who ever thought “like” would be a noun?) are attributable to me. They are attributable, instead, to the powerful engine Cyrus has created. (Although I will say that Cyrus told me that, since I started writing, people are lingering longer and coming back more.)
Unsurprisingly, advertisers are sitting up and taking notice. If you get an ad on any page at Cyrus’s site, hundreds of thousands of people will see it.
This all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Why then, am I counting my blessings that Cyrus is the genius and not I or my children? Because genius is a very mixed blessing. The area of your genius is like the manic part of being manic-depressive, and too often that leaves the rest of your life being the depressed part of manic-depressive.
Although only in his very early 20s, Cyrus is shouldering a level of work and responsibility that would weigh down someone with much more experience. Cyrus is negotiating contracts small (like mine) and large (like you can’t even imagine); balancing outgoing payments to keep his site growing while waiting for incoming payments from advertisers; constantly trolling the internet, twitter, and Facebook for the trending ideas that will drive traffic to his site; and polishing the posts I write (adding a catchy title, pictures, and hyperlinks, as well as promoting the post on Facebook).
At least in regard to the last obligation, I am making a difference in Cyrus’ life. Before he asked me for content help, Cyrus was writing most of the site’s content in addition to doing everything else. As he freely admits, writing is not his thing. His talents are elsewhere. By expending a lot of time and energy, he was grinding out material that competent, but lacked personality.
Now that I’m on board, Cyrus has more time to do mundane things such as eat, sleep, breath, etc. While writing was a terror for him, it’s a real pleasure for me. I love to write. I love to synthesize data regarding ideas that interest me. I love to play with words. This is fun.
I also flatter myself that my writing, in addition to giving Cyrus some semblance of a life, gives his readers content that has a distinct personality. Early on in this post I said that Cyrus had grown one of the most popular sites that no one has heard of. That’s because Cyrus’ writing conveyed the information he promised his readers, but didn’t offer a strong authorial voice. My writing has that voice. Even when I try (half-heartedly, I admit) to silence the voice, it keeps sneaking in anyway. My voice is snarky and opinionated, as well as being a bit erudite although not (I hope) in a way that makes the content hard to read or off-putting.
The writer in me is glad that I get to write. The mother in me is glad that I get to do a little something to take some of the burden off of such young shoulders.
I don’t get the feeling that Cyrus gets joy from what he does, and I have to admit that saddens me. Like so many great men (and I do believe that, in his own way, he has more than a touch of greatness), he’s driven not just by a vision but also by a nagging sense of unease and fear of failure. These two cancel each other out. He does wonderful things, but is incapable of stepping back and admiring his creation. There’s always more to be done. More mountains to climb. Other battles to fight.
Cyrus is the un-Pollyanna. Since I have a tendency towards depression (Churchill’s black dog), I fight it constantly by being Pollyanna. I count my blessings, not just once a day, but throughout the day. When God (or bad luck or stupid decisions) closes a door, I spend my time frantically trying to identifying the open window that’s supposed to be out there. I’m always terribly afraid that if I don’t affirmatively and endlessly appreciate the true blessings that are part of my life, I’ll stop seeing them. Then I’ll be like the commuter who daily drives by a mix of beautiful flower gardens and hideous garbage dumps, and eventually stops seeing the gardens. My commute through life requires me to say “Yes, I see the flower garden” every time I drive by.
That’s so not Cyrus. I wish I could infuse him with my belief in self-created happiness. I don’t mean foolish or fatuous happiness. I mean the sense that events in life unfold for a purpose, even if we don’t know at the time of the event what that purpose was or will be. Indeed, even if a “purpose” doesn’t exist at the time the event happens, it is up to us to give it meaning.
I think there’s a little touch of the fool in me that enables me to maintain this Pollyanna outlook. Cyrus is too smart for it. The same titanic creativity and energy that power his work also strip away the gauzy blinders the rest of us are able to throw over the less appealing parts of our lives.
I look forward to a long and happy association with Cyrus, whether that length is counted in weeks, months, or years. I wish Cyrus the same.Email This Post To A Friend
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