Hyperlocal news about Melbourne's first suburb: Fitzroy 3065

the power of personality in social media engagement


I am regularly criticised by readers like Betty and Louisa being overly critical or confrontational in my attitude and opinions. Some readers don’t like my ideas, though usually they have not bothered to read the discussion or fail to comprehend the real issue before they launch into an incoherent response. Some of my topics are arcane and my point of view is not shared by many people. So be it.

A number of my friends have expressed concern and discomfort about the mismatch between my real personality and the persona I project as the author and publisher of Fitzroyalty. They don’t understand why I do this, why I would want to do it, or what purpose it serves.

I initially thought that my openness to conflict was disliked by people based on their own comfort levels with it; now I’m not so sure. I think it is more about what readers expect from media, and how confronted they feel by the unpredictability of social media.

Traditional commercial media wants its audience to like it; I’m not trying to cultivate affection. You don’t need to like me to find what I write relevant, compelling and engaging. Fundamentally, you don’t have to like me to trust me. You may pay me more attention if you are confronted by me and are not sure whether you like me.

The reason why I allow and even encourage conflict while insisting on rational debate is that it increases responses and interaction. A good post that many people agree with may generate a lot of views but very few comments; it’s less motivating for many commenters to agree with a post than it is to offer a different point of view. This does not necessarily have to be direct conflict, but I do not mind if it is.

Recently Matthew Hurst, author of the Data Mining: Text Mining, Visualization and Social Media blog, made what I thought was a hugely insightful comment about hyperlocal social media:

I suspect that hyperlocal content requires a strong personality to help lead discussion about the community, and provide the dedication to both the community and the notion of hyperlocal required to maintain a high rate of quality relevant content.

To stand out amongst thousands of social media voices, citizen journalists and hyperlocal content creators need to do something unique. However, no one yet knows what works. There are no rules. There’s very little analysis of how audiences respond to social media; it’s all too new.

I’m openly and deliberately experimenting on my audience to see how they respond. One day I will poke you, dear reader, with a stick. The next day I will tickle you with a feather. I’m watching you and learning a lot about how you respond to me. Are you enjoying it as much as I am?


  1. i’m glad you posted this, i was worried that you must be having a terrible time being such a cranky-pants

    if nobody’s critical we’ll always get what we’ve always had. keep it up

    • We’re so used to being lazy audiences and taking everything we read literally, even though we also mistrust much of what commercial media has to say. I’m deliberately manipulating audience expectations to see what works and what doesn’t. I’m trying to challenge my readers to have a consciously critical approach to the media they consume.

  2. I admire your strength of vision xo

  3. Yes, we need strong opinions even when we’re not agreeing with them. I applaud your sometimes lack of amiability! It’s part of your authenticity and valuable. Whatever you post, not everyone is going to agree anyway so I think it’s great that you stick to your guns.

  4. Don’t tickle me, motherfucker.

  5. Hi, I’d just like to say that I’m grateful for the fact that you express opinions with thought and conviction. It makes for a much more entertaining and enlightening read and as long as the boundaries between fact and opinion are clear (which they always), Fitzroyalty remains on my RSS.

  6. Just like most of the big blockbuster movies you can deliver what your audience expects or you can do your thing.
    I prefer independent movies and opinions because they challenge my mind more than the usual stuff (Explosions, transforming robots, epic fights combined with explosions.. oh and transforming robots followed by… explosions..)

  7. Now that I know it is a construct, Brian, I am not so inclined to bother about it: but reserve the right to note those occasions when you achieve orbit.
    However, lumping me in with Louisa is a bit rich: she is a contumely virago, whereas I am just a pink haired harpy.

  8. I would also say, in all seriousness, that since there is an acknowledged, tickling, poking persona, the twists and turns of which are designed to attract attention and comment, then that persona is just as much the subject of any of your posts as the arcane topic to hand.

  9. I have the greatest respect for folks who do their own thing with conviction! Love your work…

  10. Haha! For me, your persona is merely a rude distraction from the patchy, occasionally libelous, hyperbole-soaked “information” I rely upon Fitzroyalty to deliver, and the comments of Betty Slocombe.

  11. Brian, I think you may suffer from a rare and often misdiagnosed form of Tourette’s, suffered by a tiny minority of the population, it’s often referred to as variant RBV (Random Blogger Vitriol), and generally can be controlled fairly well, presenting only occasional outbursts of unfettered ranting.

    Some sufferers are under the delusion that members of the general public are somehow interested in these outbursts, that the subject matter wrapped in vitriol is rather fascinating and insightful; so sufferers are often rightly diagnosed as having a side order of borderline Narcissism.

    Long periods of inertia in front of a computer are known to exacerbate the condition and getting out more often is one method of controlling symptoms.

    Members of the public are advised not to encourage such outbursts, feedback feeds the symptoms and it may worsen exponentially, resulting in pages and pages of deranged online output.

    It is also highly recommended that sufferers of this condition keep screen wipes to hand.

    Seriously though, don’t change a thang Mr B ;-)

  12. You do sound a bit angry at times but I think you justify it. If it was more sardonic or snarky it might be a bit more palatable but I find your posts interesting and easy to read.

  13. Interesting! I think it’s cool that you are taking a systematic and thoughtful approach to things like the tone of your blogs. Trust me, it’s a refreshing change from the fluffy bullshit that most people post.

    However, many people call you snarky and negative and combatative. I mean, on so many posts you have to wade through many, many comments of people calling you names, telling you they hate you and your writing – doesn’t that wear you down? I think you can be critical and provoke debate without being forceful or taking a combatative approach. I like to think that’s what I do on my blog (I don’t think I’m combatative!)

    In a way it’s like Andrew Bolt – many love him, many love to hate him. It almost doesn’t matter what he’s saying at any given stage, as half his commentors are just telling him he’s a douche. If a writers’ persona was less forceful and more considered, maybe that would create more space for actual debate and comment, because it would remove the ‘hating the writer’ element?

    Hm. Very interested to hear your thoughts on this, Brian!

    • It doesn’t wear me down at all. The incoherent whinging and name calling is meaningless babble from inferior minds. I want reasoned debate and that’s what I try to foster and that’s what I choose to engage with. You should see the comments that get deleted!

      I have found that delivering a complex argument about something in a measured neutral tone similar to traditional (quality) journalism op-ed, or academic writing, is simply not suited to this format. It’s too impersonal. It has no individual voice. It could be written by anyone. Why would I want to sound like an anonymous voice?

      Polite discussion gets fewer readers and fewer responses. Opinion needs a bit of attitude to make it stand out and that is what I am experimenting with. If someone doesn’t like what I do that is a legitimate opinion. The appropriate response is to stop reading. I want to actively discourage idiot readers.

      In expecting me to be different or do what they want me to do, the whinging apostrophe challenged masses demonstrate that they don’t understand social media. It’s not about writing safe agreeable things that make people feel comfortable. It’s about people sharing their differing opinions. Their problem is that they are incapable of delivering a reasoned opinion.

  14. I’m not suggesting a nuetral tone or polite discussion is best, at all. Having a strong, distinguishable voice is definitely a good quality for a writer – online or off. But there is a difference between having a strong, discernible voice with attitude, and being purposefully angry/cranky/rude (words mentioned in the comments above).

    Oh, and I’m not suggesting how you should run your blog – just adding my thoughts to the debate.

    • If I’m angry it’s usually for a reason, such as being poisoned by selfish smokers. And when I’m rude to lazy or irrational commenters it’s to drive them away – I don’t want the largest possible readership, I want the smartest possible readership!

  15. Your dismissal of “inferior minds”, as you call them, sometimes reads (from my perspective at least) as refusal to engage with other strands of argument. Honestly, that’s how it comes across to me. It’s one thing to provoke a reaction through a hyper-critical tone, but it can be frustrating for me as a reader, when you shut down interesting responses based on your assessment of whether someone is intelligent enough. I think it’s that behaviour that undermines your tactic.

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