Thursday, October 23, 2008

i am @bettydraper

If you thought you were corresponding with January Jones or one of Weiner's writers or a neglected housewife circa. 1962--sorry for the spoiler. I am one of the large (and still growing) cast of Mad Men characters on Twitter.

As has already been revealed, the cast of Mad Men twitterers is in no way connected with AMC or Matthew Weiner. Neither are they part of Deep Focus (AMC's digital ad agency) or any other PR marketing group, despite tweets like one from @ddrager yesterday guessing tweeters are paid or "they wouldn't go to the lengths they have, and for how long they've been at it!" Rational people, he means.

My life as a Mad Man began as a lark. On August 26, just after AMC lawyers changed their minds about closing down Mad Men twitter accounts (persuaded in part by bloggers and journalists who couldn't believe AMC would toss away a brilliant promotional idea that did not cost them a cent) I went on Twitter to see which character was still available, and signed up @francine_hanson. I found a nice photo of her on the AMC website and started to tweet, trying to engage @betty_draper. But she wouldn't tweet back. Instead, she sent me a nasty direct message. So I went back on twitter and registered @bettydraper; now I had a Betty to play with.

Naively, I believed at that point the Twitter Mad Men were connected with AMC, that we were in some sort of "playoff" for jobs as twitter-writers for the show. Surely no one would do this for free, I thought, as days went by and I realized how much, how VERY much time it took to properly twitter a character (the reading! the rewatching shows! the historical research into what was around in 1962 and what was not!)

By the time I learned that what I'd signed up for was a volunteer effort⎯I was too hooked to quit. There is a thrill that comes with taking on another persona, interacting with the world as someone else, especially if that someone is as complex and interesting⎯ and as sexy and glam⎯as Matthew Weiner's Betty.

I found myself scouting for back issues of Life magazines, searching for things for Betty and Francine to do together. I ordered books online ("The Golden Age of the 60s") and spent hours and hours googling 60s culture, making sure that my tweets were historically accurate. (Of course, it helped that I'd lived the era myself, but I didn't want to trust my tweets to the memory of a child.)

Needless to say, all this living in the past took a toll on my life in 2008. I began to resent time away from the twitter screen, began to beg off social engagements, turned lunch meetings into phone meetings, neglected my work, friends, my family. My blog!

"You're not tweeting again, are you?" my husband would ask, coming into the room, when he knew I had actual deadlines to meet, emails to answer, bills to pay. "Uh, no," I'd lie, feeling as guilty as Sally caught smoking, hurriedly switching the screen back to Quicken.

What are you doing, I'd ask myself as I googled an old recipe for German noodles or the television schedule for 1962. But I couldn't stop. Just one more tweet, I'd think, then I'll go back to work. But to write that one tweet, I had to find out the year that Tastykakes were invented…

At first, the follower counts of the two Bettys were too far apart for the other Betty to care much, except to send me a few nasty dms. (" I suggest you try your hand at being who you really are, some (real, ok) woman dreaming about Don, and we'll all get by.") I had a few hundred followers to her fifteen hundred. But as weeks went by and my count kept going up, she began to make noise, insisting the Betty character was "hers" as she'd staked the claim first. The people behind the Don and Peggy twitter accounts agreed, insisting that "First come, first claim" was the rule--which surely made sense from their own perspectives. But "landing rights" seemed to me an odd approach for creative endeavors, like Weiner hiring the the first actor who shows up for the job. And I found it ironic--hilarious, even--that the character who was a wild philanderer on screen was proving so monogamous in the twitterverse.

If I'd been a sane person, I'd have quit when I realized that @don_draper wasn't going to acknowledge @bettydraper in the public timeline, though he'd sent her husbandly direct messages in private. ("Be home soon, Birdie" and "I'll be home in an hour".) In fan fiction terms, not being acknowledged by the main character is the equivalent of being sent to the Siberian front.

But I wasn't a sane person. I had grown insatiable, driven by an almost physical need to communicate as Betty to my "fans." I had almost a thousand followers now. How could I let them down? My Betty had even begun to come to life in the blogosphere.

At this point, I gave away the Francine account, and a few other characters I'd picked up on the way, to devote my full energies and concentration to Betty. She was the main character, the most interesting one, the one I most wanted to "be."

My follower count grew. And grew. And I learned a lot about what fuels success on Twitter: your popularity is determined not so much by what you say, as who you are, saying it. If you want to build following, it's best to be (or pretend to be) an industry leader or a famous writer or one of the lead characters in a popular TV series. I'm not the first to observe that @don_draper's posts are pretty bland, considering the creative genius he's supposed to be. Yet this doesn't deter his 3800 followers. The person behind @pete_campbell doesn't post at all; he stopped after only four tweets in August, yet his follower list continues to grow, exceeding 760 as of this writing.

I also learned that your popularity on Twitter also has a lot to do with how many people you follow. For most twitterers, follow limits are capped at 2000. Which may sounds like a lot to you. But if you're building a fanbase, it's not enough. @don_draper has so many followers, in part because he follows over 3000 people. I somehow learned how to uncap my follow limit and @peggyolson sent me a friendly email inquiring how I did it. I thought about withholding the answer from her, knowing she'd pass it along to Don's Betty--but I recoiled at the thought of being so anti-social…in social media! Sure enough, the other Betty blew the cap off her follow count the next day.

Following people is tedious; a lot of hunting and pecking. Basically you're poaching from similar twitterers' follower lists or searching twitter for posts using key words like "Mad Men" and following the people who said them. Add following time to the time to research posts to the time to write them…what was I doing?

Yet. I couldn't stop. Now my fanbase numbered 2000!

For a while, Bud the Mailman made valiant efforts to get us to work as a team. He solicited our email addresses and circulated them but after a few rounds of enthusiastic exchanges (we could do storylines! product placements! sponsorships!) it became clear that we could never work together, as we could never agree on anything, not even on whether or not to meet up.

One of the most curious aspects of the whole experience is how true to character each of us stayed (except for the philandering); how even when dealing with each other we remained in character, as if we were actors instead of PR types, ad hacks and digerati for hire. In group emails, I found myself sounding housewifely and deferential; Peggy was earnest and fiercely loyal to Don (whom she'd never met); Sal was ironic and devil-may-care; Don was tacitly acknowledged to be the boss, and took an authoritative tone with us, as if he'd started a company instead of a twitter account.

My follower count at 2800 exceeded the other Betty's this week. Why am I outing myself now? I find I've lost stomach for our competition. I realize the lengths she is willing to go to, lengths that I am unwilling to match. I want my life back. But, you can take a valuable lesson from her, if you're looking to pump your popularity on Twitter:

1. Craft an auto-message that goes out to all the people you follow. The standard message people receive from Twitter when someone follows them is "Betty Draper is now following you on Twitter." But you can configure a unique appeal to accompany it. Something like "@Betty_Draper wants to be your friend and begs you not to follow fake @bettydraper."

2. Create a new character that will acknowledge you often in tweets, validating your character and sending you followers. (This means, of course, you'll have to keep up more than one character. Forget that day job.)

2. Set up a Twitter site ostensibly designed to impartially rate the quality of whatever category tweets you are doing. Like the @OnMadMen site run by ex-MM Twitterer @jimmy_barrett which claims to be "A critical look at Mad Men on Twitter…let's keep the game fun and healthy, shall we?"

This will allow you to:

a. Stage a contest between you and competitors
b. Dm followers asking them to "vote" for you in the contest.
c. Win the vote!

Inspired in spite of this post to launch your own Mad Men twitter account? Join the crowd. The latest cast count is 67, I think, including @ xerox914, the handsome new Sterling Cooper copier. You'll be helping to keep good TV alive by taking part in a small but effective branding campaign. How do I know it's effective? Lots of people post that they are inspired to watch Mad Men because of the tweets.

Which brings me to my bill, AMC. Given my day rate and the time I've put in so far, I figure you owe me $48,000.


Anonymous said...

I'm from the law office of Fuller, Russell and Thompson and I represent Jimmy Barrett and Barrett Productions. I have been asked by Jimmy Barrett to clarify a couple of points:

1)Jimmy is asked to endorse products and projects all the time. However, he has absolutely no connection to @OnMadMen.

2)Jimmy is not an ex-MM Twitterer. He Twitters almost every day.

Jimmy thanks you for being a loyal fan and urges you to watch "Grin and Barrett" on ABC and to pick up his new comedy album, "The Loudmouth... LIVE!" which was released earlier this month on RCA Records.

Thank you,
Paul Q. Fuller, Esq.

wickenden said...

I really appreciate you writing this. The whole twitter madmen thing has really been a trip. Thanks for the look into the machinations.

Don (@wickenden )

Libby Issendorf said...

Your Betty was sooooo much better than the other one...I started out by following her but got too fed up with how out-of-character she was. Kudos :)

Anonymous said...

Really wonderful, smart, funny and intriguing post -- this is the kind of article that I'd have expected to see in New York Magazine, (or Los Angeles Magazine, if we were lucky.)

I'm so glad you came out -- you took the high road; you revealed the nasty tricks of the trade; you ID'd a fascinating subculture (like the grown-up version of 2nd Life); and you did it with your trademark voice. And your tale makes a nice shout out to the talented writers who really do have to script those characters, arcs and episodes.

The followers of @bettydraper have lost a great deal, but there's a book in this for the first person to compile the antics. Thanks for the great post.

Anonymous said...

Great post. I was really interested in the Mad Men Twitter/ phenomenon. This is a wonderful amount of information and its a great look at how Twitter can sweep people up. Thanks for using my screenshot from my blog post!

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@paul q. fuller--Duly noted. I look forward to the show and to picking up his album on my next trip to Colony :)

@don lavange Thanks. Yes, it proved to be a mad, mad, mad men world.

@libby issendorf Aw, shucks. Thanks for the follow. Betty thanks you too.

@girlpie Really appreciate your generous read and kind words. I'm afraid that would be a very looooong book ;)

@alexpayne Thank YOU for your original post. Which I should have attributed. Amending that now...

Unknown said...

This is absolutely fascinating. I was intrigued by the back and forth between you and betty at the beginning - about lunch at Schrafts and the gloves and all that (see-- I remembered it.)

Thanks for being part of a fascinating game and also for letting us get a peak behind the curtains.

Really a great post.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm. Wondering why Betty is the only MM character to have unfollowed me.

And, Paul Q. Fuller, Esq. can add PR flack and agent to that title. Way to work in a plug for the client!

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@alan wolk Thanks and for the repost on facebook, too. Yes, my obsession began while researching replies to the other Betty whom I assumed I'd get to "play with" as the Francine character. Thanks for remembering white gloves and Schrafft's!

@mtlb Oh dear! Sometimes @bettydraper's fingers flew a little too fast over those Olivetti keys. She mean nothing personal, I can assure you ;)

Anonymous said...

Good grief, so I'm following you twice. And I've never even seen the show --lol

Ad Broad, oldest working writer in advertising said...

@anonymous Thanks for the follow, whichever you choose ;)