Social media case study #001: @Mike_FTW and Twitter jackassery

I don’t know Mike Monteiro personally. Apparently I do know someone else who does, but that’s irrelevant here. This post is not about Mike Monteiro, the flesh-and-blood human being, owner of Mule Design Studio and author of Design Is a Job. This post is about @Mike_FTW (NSFW, depending on where you W), Mike Monteiro’s Twitter persona.

In case you’re curious but afraid to click that last link, allow me to explain, as the imagery is critical to my understanding of what @Mike_FTW is all about. The background image on Mike’s Twitter page is a topless photo of Bea Arthur, circa early 1970s. It is a rather plain-looking photo, neither sexualized nor grotesque. It’s almost like a school portrait, actually, except for the fact that she’s not wearing anything.

It may seem a little odd that I should fixate so much on this photo in trying to understand what @Mike_FTW is all about, but I think it’s key. It’s like a surgeon general’s warning for his Twitter feed. It’s provocative, confusing to some, but ultimately benign. But what is it really saying? If Mike were simply trying to (pardon my word choice) titillate, he certainly would have chosen a sexier photo. If he were trying to scare people off, he’d have gone with one more extreme.

I think there’s something much more deliberate, more considered, about this choice of photo. Because while it may ultimately be benign, it’s not without meaning. Bea Arthur, especially in the early 1970s, was a major public face for feminism with her TV show Maude. She chose to have this photo taken and made public. I don’t know all of the circumstances surrounding it, but what it says to me is, “Get over it. They’re just boobs.” It’s a challenge to both ends of the morality spectrum to lighten up, loosen up, toughen up, and wise up. And I think that’s really what Mike Monteiro’s mission is with @Mike_FTW.

@Mike_FTW is almost always abrasive, coarse, and rude, but with an underlying ethos that isn’t too hard to pick up on if you’re paying attention. A couple of recent stunts have cast this in a clear light.

Mike Monteiro: Splenda yoga mom

On May 21-22, @Mike_FTW temporarily changed tone, posting a series of tweets with a cloyingly banal new persona he dubbed “Splenda yoga mom”. It confused and outraged some of his followers, not unlike the “straight” episode of Sealab 2021. Eventually he came clean, explaining in a succinct set of tweets how this stuff works:

@Mike_FTW comes clean

A few tweets from May 22, 2012 wherein Mike Monteiro talks about what he does on Twitter.

Storified by Scott Anderson · Thu, May 31 2012 10:16:45

So here’s the problem, now that I know you guys want me to be a jerk, I kinda don’t wanna be one.Mike Monteiro
‘Cause let’s face it, I’m not really a jerk. Nor am I the Splenda yoga mom I was pretending to be the last few days.Mike Monteiro
We’re all complex beings. And our online personas are just another layer of complexity added to our identity.Mike Monteiro
Jerks can pretend to be nice. Nice people can pretend to be jerks. The truth is that we’re all constantly ebbing and flowing in between.Mike Monteiro
And in the end, all we’re left with are the impressions we leave across one another. You’re the sum of others’ smiles and tears.Mike Monteiro

But it’s more than that. Because he didn’t just pull a stunt to piss off his followers by confounding their unjustified expectations of how he should behave on Twitter. He wrapped the stunt in a successful effort to make a real, positive difference in the world by drumming up thousands of dollars in donations to

What is the value of a tweet?

Yesterday, this happened: Atlanta-based web developer John Graham wrote a blog post, never intended for a wide audience (as most blogs, this one included, rightly should not be) about why he stopped listening to John Gruber’s The Talk Show podcast, and why he unfollowed @Mike_FTW. The post did not offer any great insight, nor was it particularly interesting to anyone beyond the author himself. But there’s no indication that he ever intended it to be, except for one thing: he included “@Mike_FTW” in his tweet about the post. Monteiro picked up the ball Graham had gently placed at his feet, and ran with it.

This time the stunt was to get @johnegraham2 1000 Twitter followers in a day, and get them all to unfollow him en masse a day later. Again the stunt worked… and again it raised over $1000 for In his blog post, John Graham said “The problem for me is that I don’t find him funny and therefore there doesn’t seem to be any value in his tweets.” Humor is subjective, of course, but raising over $1000 to help a family in need in a matter of hours isn’t. A lot of people may not agree with Mike Monteiro’s tactics (if they even understand them), but it’s hard to argue they’re ineffective.

So what’s your point?

What can we really learn from @Mike_FTW, the Twitter alter-ego of Mike Monteiro? How much of it is Mike, and how much is an act? Unless you know Mike personally, that question is impossible to answer. Likewise his motivations to do what he does, the way that he does, are a bit of a mystery. Still, there are some lessons here for how to use social media effectively, something that isn’t lost on @Mike_FTW. After the first stunt, he tweeted in his typically humble fashion:

And, yesterday:

Meanwhile, John Graham, the butt of the joke, responded on his blog and showed their appreciation:

What do I learn about social media strategy from Mike Monteiro? First off, don’t think about “social media strategy”. If that’s your focus, you’re doomed to failure. Engagement on social media may be superficial, but it’s real. If you’re doing it to “build your brand” or “extend your reach” or some such nonsense, give up. You have to do it because you want to. You have to mean it. Even if you’re taking on an obnoxious persona that will enrage as many people as it delights, make it meaningful.

Second, be interesting. That doesn’t mean being a “great guy” who’s boring to follow. Don’t play it safe. Take chances. Be distinctive. Be funny, weird, rude, unpredictable. Social media is entertainment as much as anything else, and if you don’t entertain people, they won’t stick around.

Third, or maybe second-and-a-half, have a distinct voice. Remember, the people who only know you through social media only know you through social media. The persona you create doesn’t have to be you, but it has to be someone.

And finally, have fun. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Mike Monteiro has fun with @Mike_FTW. And he certainly has fun poking people who take themselves too seriously.

Update: Mike Monteiro has clarified that the background image on his Twitter page is a painting, not a photo, which is why it hasn’t been banned by Twitter. This fact may alter the veracity and implications of my statement that Bea Arthur posed for and approved the image, but I think the larger message is still relevant. They’re still just boobs.

Also, contrary to all obvious indications, I did not deliberately craft this post in a way to fish for a response, retweet, or acknowledgment from Mike Monteiro. But, perhaps, @Mike_FTW is another story.

Update #2: I neglected to mention this in the original post above, but I think it’s worth at least noting: the situation that seems to have pushed Mike Monteiro over the edge in the case of both of these “stunts” (my word) is the vitriolic reaction many people have had to John Gruber taking The Talk Show to Mike’s Mule Radio Syndicate. It’s not directly relevant to the point I was trying to make here, but it’s probably helpful to provide some context. Mike may be acting like a jerk on Twitter, but it’s nothing compared to some of the reactions he gets.

Here’s the deal (sort of)…

OK, so here’s the deal (sort of) with those last couple of ambiguous posts. I’m trying to take advantage of some of the newest features of WordPress (which seem largely intended to keep WordPress relevant in a post-Tumblr world), especially the ability to create different post formats, which, in addition to the “standard” format, include asides, links, galleries, status(es), quotes, and images.

In order to get access to these new features, I’ve switched from my old, built-from-scratch custom theme to the current stock theme, Twenty Eleven, which I am currently modifying for my own nefarious purposes. (If you consider hot pink text in a whimsical retro font nefarious, which you should.) My goal is to get things fairly close to how they looked before the switch, while still gaining access of all of that new WordPress mojo.

Cool. But what I really want to do is to take all of this even a step further, and let this WordPress-based blog become my single hub for posting anything online, except I guess for photos, which I still plan to post through Instagram, because I like how the app works. (Although having those show up in the main blog content stream instead of, or in addition to, in a sidebar widget would also be nice.)

The biggest stumbling block for this grand vision, so far, is that Twitter Tools, the WordPress plugin I use for all of the Twitter integration (a.k.a. “twittergration” in my compulsive Twitter portmanteau, or “twortmanteau”, parlance) on the site, isn’t smart enough to handle these special formats in the way I’d like. It should recognize asides, and especially status(es), as such and just run them as the entirety of the tweet, without the usual “UoP:” prefix and permalink consuming precious characters.

Or, perhaps more rationally, the ability of Twitter Tools to turn tweets into posts should allow you to define the format of those tweet posts (“twosts”), so I could tell it to make all of my twosts into status(es) instead of “standard” posts. Yes, this is definitely a more rational approach, and one that makes me slightly embarrassed to have written the previous paragraph (but not enough to make me delete it). I’m very accustomed to tweeting on-the-go from my iPhone, and I’d prefer to keep using Tweetbot for that, instead of somehow trying to turn the WordPress app into my go-to tool for depositing random brain cruft onto the interwebs.

While I’m wishing for alternative methods of funneling content into WordPress, as I mentioned above it would also be super neato if I could get Instagram photos to automatically show up on the blog as image posts… which might be possible, if I were to take the time to investigate it, but one thing at a time.

The end result of all of this angsting is that my blog is currently not in a state that I intend for it to remain in for very long. It’s a work in progress (as is everything in the world that isn’t just being allowed to decay), and I suppose I can live with it for now. I have more important things to worry about at the moment, unless you’d care to make a generous donation for the ongoing care and feeding of my blog. (4 figures minimum, and that’s U.S. dollars… not pennies, wooden nickels or, um… “Star Bucks”)

Then again, maybe I’ll be able to think about all of this a little more rationally come Monday, when the Minneapolis Public Schools’ winter break is finally over.

140 characters

Picking up where the last post left off, this morning SLP and I were discussing the frustrations some people have with Twitter, and their frequent inclination to dismiss it wholesale as a result. One of the biggest complaints always seems to be that you “can’t say anything” in 140 characters. That the brevity of a tweet naturally leads to flippant, ill-considered, 2 short & hvly abbrvtd, or just plain pointless missives fired into the vast, chaotic fray of similar voices, loudly saying nothing.

As I usually do at this point (although maybe she beat me to it this time), I brought up haiku. Most haiku poems could easily fit within the 140-character confines of a tweet, but few people dismiss the haiku form as too brief to convey meaning. In fact, I was inspired to compose a haiku on the topic of Twitter itself, which I subsequently tweeted, of course:

Twitter, like haiku,
Is brief, but you can still say
Something meaningful.

Of course Twitter, like all forms of communication, has limitations. And of course some of what ends up on Twitter is pointless babble. Just because someone gives you the tools doesn’t mean you know how to use them. But to dismiss the entire platform simply because it has constraints or because you don’t like the way certain other people are using it is as silly as dismissing haiku because you can’t write a dissertation in 17 syllables.

But sometimes that’s all you need. Is this 262-word blog post really more effective at communicating the merits of Twitter than my (as SLP called it) twaiku?

Musings of a 4-year-old daughter: a tweet compendium

I’ve spent the last year-plus tweeting the musings of my 4-year-old daughter. Tomorrow she becomes my 5-year-old daughter, so this seemed like a good time for a compendium of her “greatest hits.”

I need to acknowledge the great iPhone app Momento, which made gathering a year’s worth of tweets possible (if still not quite as easy as I would have liked… I still needed to manually pull them out of a text file using TextWrangler, and I didn’t bother to reorganize them from its default reverse chronological order). Momento is a great app for automatically turning your tweets, Facebook status updates and blog RSS feed into an automatic personal journal. You can also write private entries directly within the app. It’s fantastic, and well worth the $2.99 price tag.

Here we go…

4yo daughter: What’s the car alarm for?
Me: To scare off someone trying to break in.
4yo: It should just make a ghost come out.
Monday 21 March 2011, 12:22 PM

4yo daughter just sheepishly approached me and said “I accidentally did this.”
“This” being writing her name on her leg with a marker.
Sunday 20 March 2011, 9:08 AM

I was explaining how long Bob Dylan’s been around. 4yo daughter: “Um, dad, the word you’re looking for is ’80 hundred years’.”
Sunday 13 February 2011, 8:34 PM

4yo daughter wants to do yoga. Or, in her words, get “yoga’ed up.”
Saturday 5 February 2011, 7:07 PM

4yo daughter: Who do you think I’m going to marry?
Me: I don’t know. Probably someone you don’t even know yet.
4yo: I have to MEET someone?
Saturday 29 January 2011, 4:06 PM

4yo daughter is excited for Twins Fest on Sunday, but only for possibility of seeing TC Bear or Joe Mauer (in that order). @MinnesotaTwins
Friday 28 January 2011, 9:32 PM

4yo daughter to coffee roaster: “What are you doing?”
Coffee roaster: “Cooking little girls.”
Daughter: “What?”
Roaster: “Roasting coffee.”
Saturday 8 January 2011, 3:45 PM

4yo daughter’s new song: “Doo Doo Death Star,” sung to the tune of “Frère Jacques.”
Thursday 6 January 2011, 7:31 AM

4yo daughter: “Worms are mean to artists because worms eat trees and paper comes from trees.”
Friday 31 December 2010, 12:52 PM

Always surprising what songs 4yo daughter spontaneously sings… this time it’s “Baby’s in Black” by the Beatles.
Friday 31 December 2010, 4:39 PM

4yo daughter in a freshly cleaned bathroom: “It smells like I pooped on a flower.”
Thursday 30 December 2010, 1:02 PM

To 4yo daughter: “Are they vegetarians?”
4yo daughter replies: “Yeah, they only eat vegetarian meat.”
Tuesday 21 December 2010, 5:58 PM

4yo daughter: “I love shopping. Just like London Tipton.” #ParentingFail
Thursday 16 December 2010, 5:22 PM

4yo daughter, totally out of the blue: “Pigs are breakfast, daddy.”
Sunday 5 December 2010, 8:34 PM

Apparently 4yo daughter spent entire drive back from North Shore listening to the White Album. Walking around house singing “Bungalow Bill.”
Sunday 28 November 2010, 1:51 PM

4yo daughter gets home from preschool. What does she want for a snack? Salt.
Thursday 11 November 2010, 5:20 PM

4yo daughter is listening to Queen: “Why are they champions?”
Tuesday 26 October 2010, 8:36 PM

4yo daughter correctly identified Kyle Massey on Dancing with the Stars as the voice of Milo on Disney Channel’s Fish Hooks. Seriously?!
Monday 18 October 2010, 8:23 PM

Listening to Rush — “La Villa Strangiato” — today, because last night my 4yo daughter misheard me say something and asked “Strangiato?” I think.
Wednesday 13 October 2010, 9:00 AM

Speaking of 4yo daughter, my natural inclination to correct everyone all the time shuts off when she calls an iPad a “big iPod.”
Wednesday 13 October 2010, 9:18 AM

4yo daughter identified the scientist Algernon (Roy Kinnear) in The Beatles’ Help! as “Veruca’s dad.”
Monday 30 August 2010, 3:30 PM

4yo daughter just said, “I wish your body didn’t need sleep. Sleeping is boring!”
Wednesday 26 May 2010, 9:19 PM

4yo explaining why she’s hungry: “My tummy’s empty. All the food went into my legs.”
Wednesday 12 May 2010, 7:56 AM

4yo daughter just insulted me (I think) by yelling “You shredded wheat!”
Saturday 10 April 2010, 3:22 PM

Troy Bolton is my 4yo daughter’s boyfriend. Also, bacon.
Tuesday 6 April 2010, 8:25 PM

4yo daughter just informed us that 7yo son is “pushing my buttons!” Wonder where she learned that.
Saturday 3 April 2010, 6:24 PM

And, stepping back just a bit further, my all-time favorite quote, from when she was 3…

The Smiths on @TheCurrent. 3yo daughter, hearing Morrissey’s crooning, asks: “Is he crying?” Yeah. Pretty much.
Friday 19 February 2010, 4:54 PM

Tomorrow is also my son’s 8th birthday (yep, same day). He’s not quite as quotable as his little sister, but he did have one absolute gem (for me, at least) this year…

7yo son: Is XBOX Nintendo or Sega?
Me: Neither… it’s Microsoft.
Him: Microsoft?! What’s that?
Thursday 27 January 2011, 7:50 PM

Happy birthday guys!


It’s been two weeks since my last blog entry which, while not exactly a record for inactivity, is surely too long. I’m too busy to write a full entry today but I feel compelled to write a brief status update to tide over anyone who for some reason cares about what I’m doing/saying/thinking.

Item! Lots of work going on at Room 34 Creative Services, LLC! I’m making major enhancements to cms34 and preparing to roll out a major site overhaul for a long-term client.

Item! I’m suffering withdrawal after the premature end to the baseball season in Minnesota. That said, my pain is eased considerably by the Rangers’ handy defeat of the Yankees in the ALCS, and by the success of my favored San Francisco Giants in the NLCS.

Item! Oh, man. The MacBook Air. I couldn’t resist the impulse to buy the 11-inch model this weekend, and I absolutely love it. More on that in a future post.

Item! I’m hoping to review another coffeehouse this week, as it’s been way too long.

Item! If random, bullet point-length updates from me are something you enjoy, be sure to check me out on Twitter for all of the latest trivialities.

That is all.