Tag Archives: Joe Romm

Clicky and sticky: The secret to creating viral content

Twenty five centuries ago, long before the start of the common era, the written record about the spoken language began. The ancient Greeks were not likely the first to study speech and communication, and they certainly were not the first to write stuff down, but among the early writers, they were probably the first to write about how we construct messages and stories with words.

Joe Rom's Book How to go viral and reach millions. Greg Laden's BlogToday we are engaged in a great battle between those who respect, even demand, the truth, and those who care more about partisan power than advancing or even using knowledge.

Perhaps this is why we tend to quote the dead more than ever. During the current election season, I’ve heard the late great Senator Paul Wellstone (1944-2002) quoted at nearly every meeting of loyal Democrats. “We all do better when we all do better.” “The future will not belong to those who sit on the sidelines. The future will not belong to the cynics. The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” “I represent the Democratic wing of the Democratic party.” “I’m short, I’m Jewish and I’m a liberal”

We remember the inspiring words of JFK. “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.” “A child miseducated is a child lost.” “Those who dare to fail miserably can achieve greatly.” “Ask not what your country can do for you… ask what you can do for your country.”

To turn to the living for one moment, Gloria Steinem. “A woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.” “Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.” “Childbirth is more admirable than conquest, more amazing than self-defense, and as courageous as either one.”

What do these memorable, moving, or emotive missives have in common? They all rely on rhetorical practices that have been part of language since, possibly, some ancient early stage of this unique human ability. Alliteration, Allusion, and Analogy are to language what a good set of planes and saws it to a carpenter. Parallelism, balance, and anaphora are used repeatedly. It is not hyberbole to suggest that metaphor underlies all of these statements. Human language, when used well, can shape minds, steer conversations, and cause more change than any military weapon.

Yet progressives, Democrats, and others on the left, even with their deep respect for and love of education, can’t seem to create a message that serves the struggle of keeping civilization on track. Why? I might guess it is because the eschewing of rhetorical forms has become the style of the day. Or, it could be because learning the rhetorical forms that work is hard to do, and our school systems, burdened under the ever increasing weight of standards across a wide range of subjects, had to squeeze something out, so rhetoric had to go. Whatever the reason, we are paying a cost. We need to dedicate serious effort to changing this.

Maybe it is a difference between private and public schools. Maybe the people who write for Republicans are from Exeter and the people who write for Democrats are from Stuyvesant High. This is not necessarily a difference in quality of education, but perhaps the elite prep schools know to teach about metonymy, epizeuxis, and enumeratio, because they know to weaponize the young else the efforts of the ascending generation would be in vain.

And yes, those forms of speech do sound like JK Rowlings-conceived spells one would cast with a unicorn-core wand made of ash. And they are, in the sense that powerfully crafted words are the original powerful magic.

Everybody left of center would do well to embrace tried and true ways to communicate, else that side of the political spectrum becomes extinct.

In an effort to combat this problem, Joe Romm, trained as a scientist, a student of rhetoric, a long time communicator of politics and issues such as climate change, has written an excellent book: How To Go Viral and Reach Millions: Top Persuasion Secrets from Social Media Superstars, Jesus, Shakespeare, Oprah, and Even Donald Trump.

Notice that the title of the book is rhetorically structured to attract readers.

Joe’s book does the rarely done task of integrating, as I imply above, the thinking of the ancient Greeks, the practice of rhetorical greats like JFK and MLK, and the more recent battle over messaging between Republicans and Democrats. This is further informed by reference to modern social science and psychology research.

This is really more of a war than a single battle, and the Republicans famously win most of the battles. Romm provides key insight as to how they do this, and how those on the left can to better. And when we do better, any of us, we all do better. It is said.

I’ll have to go back to see if Joe Romm explains why most of our paragraphs are so short these days.

Romm’s book is informative and offers inspiration, but it also offers very specific advice and guidance. It is well researched, authoritative, accessible, and memorable. Unlike so many other books on communication, it is a good piece of communication.

As an added bonus, Romm talks about his own experience with the publication process, an excellent source of helpful advice and perhaps inspiration for potential self-published authors.

I am happy that you are reading this review, but I’d be even happier if you would listen to my interview with Joe, which you will find as an installment of Ikonokast Podcast: Episode 21 – What messages go viral and reach millions?

Our conversation goes far and wide, and is not a systematic treatment of the book, so you will want to to both: buy the book and also listen to the podcast.

Finally, a challenge to Joe Romm himself: If you come across this post, can you suggest a better headline than my original? (“How to put together a message that will be clicky and sticky”)? One of these days, I’ll install a headline tester plugin. For now I’m flying with the stick. Which is probably a metaphor that went out of style about the time they invented sliced bread.

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs To Know, by Joseph Romm

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® by Joe Romm is just out, and is the most up to date examination of climate change science, the effects of climate change on humans, policy related problems, and energy-related solutions. Everyone should read this book, and if you teach earth system sciences you should consider using this book as a guide in your teaching, or in some cases, assigning it in class. The book is written to be read by general audiences, so it would work well in a high school or college setting.

As Romm points out, climate change will have more of an impact on humans, including you, than even the Internet. It is an existential issue. Romm acknowledges that some of these impacts are already happening, but that future impacts are likely to be very significant. Over the last 10 years or so, we have seen remarkable superstorms, significant drought, notable wildfires, and killer heat waves. These events have made people sit up and take notice. For this reason, more people want to know more about climate change, and indeed, everyone should know something about this problem. Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is an effort to provide that information to the average person.

Romm’s book is divided into major sections: Climate Science Basics, Extreme Weather and Climate Change, Projected Climate Impacts, Avoiding the Worse Impacts, Climate Politics and Policies, The Role of Clean Energy, and Climate Change and You. Each of these chapters is divided into a number of bite-sized mini-chapters covering the larger topic in logical sequence, with helpful illustrations.

To me, one of the most significant contributions of this book is Romm’s discussion of severe weather and climate change. This is an emerging area of science. In my view, the weather related impacts of climate change have been visible since about 1980, but have increased more recently, even in the last five years or so. It is very difficulty to study these changes because severe weather events, while common, end up being rare when you divide them by region, season, kind of impact, and kind of climate related cause. Also, meteorologists, who are in the trenches when it comes to severe weather, have been reluctant in recent years to openly acknowledge climate change (especially among the “presenters” or TV meteorologists, as they are called in different countries). This is said to be because they are part of the press, which is in large part funded by the corporate world, and you don’t want to piss off your corporate sponsors. Romm’s sections on climate change and extreme weather are well thought out, well documented, and well presented.

Another area of strength is Romm’s treatment of energy alternatives. Romm is detailed and specific in his discussion of energy and suggestions about the needed changes.

To have a significant chance of keeping total warming below 2°C, we need to cut global emissions of carbon dioxide and other major greenhouse gas (GHG) pollutants by more than 50% by mid-century. That rapid decline needs to continue through 2100, by which time the world’s total net emissions of greenhouse gases should be close to zero, if not below zero.

Romm’s section on “Climate Change and You” is a unique contribution to the growing literature on this topic.

The transition to a low carbon economy is inevitable this century, and indeed it has already begun. It will have significant consequences for both you and your family, whether the transition comes fast enough to avoid dangerous warming of more than 2°C or not. …because climate action has been so delayed for so long, humanity cannot avoid very serious climate impacts in the coming decades—impacts that will affect you and your children. Therefore, you need to understand what is coming so that you and your family will be prepared…

The defining story of the 21st century is a race between the impacts our cumulative carbon emissions will increasingly have on our climate system and humanity’s belated but accelerating efforts to replace fossil fuels with carbon-free energy. Some of the most significant impacts of climate change are ones that we likely have not foreseen. For instance, a couple of decades ago, few people imagined that the most consequential near-term impacts of climate change on large parts of both the United States and Canada would be the warming-driven population explosion of a tiny pest, the tree-destroying bark beetle.

Romm points out that many Americans, when they decide to retire, consider moving to a place that is near a coast line, or a place that is relatively warm, or both. Bad idea. With sea level rise and increasing heat, one should really re-think that strategy. He talks about the impending crash in coastal property values (something I’ve been yammering about for some time now … the current value of land that will be inundated by sea level rise is actually almost zero, though the market has not adjusted yet!). He also covers what students who want to be prepared for a role in a climate-changing world should study, investment strategies, necessary changes in diet, and how one can (and should) reduce one’s own carbon footprint.

The book has fairly extensive footnotes, and is available in hardcover, soft cover, or eBook formats.

Two Emmy Nominations for Major Climate Science Documentary

Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously is one of the most important and well done documentaries addressing climate change. The 2014 Emmy Nominations were just announced and this series has received two nominations: Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series and Outstanding Writing for Nonfiction Programming (Adam Bolt).

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While often portrayed as an unsettled debate, the reality is that 97% of scientists agree global warming is happening and humans are to blame.

Top scientific organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Medical Association and the World Health Organization, along with hundreds of others around the world, all endorse this position.

To put this overwhelming consensus into perspective, this means scientists are statistically as sure or even more sure we’re changing our climate than they are of the age of the universe, that cigarettes kill and that vitamins are healthy.

Congratulations especially to my friend Joe Romm of Climate Progress who made a big contribution to the project!

You can watch the first episode of the documentary on line here.