In 1998, there was no such thing as social media in the way we know it today. But there was a medium and it was social. It was email. Everybody I knew had it and we communicated regularly with it.
Since I was the guy who was the most plugged into movies and TV, my friends would often contact me during the week to ask me about a movie or a series that had just come on video that they were interested in.
Back then having a movie to watch meant a trip to the local video store or the big Jumbo Video in the same building as my local Loblaws. It also meant a lot of reading of descriptions on video boxes and generally a bit of a leap of faith to rent the video, because if it sucked, well there went your evening.
So a fair bit of the non-work email correspondence I carried on back then had to do with giving people encapsulated little movie reviews and opinions.
Being a writer and not being a complete fool, I saved these little reviews so that I wouldn’t have to re-write them each time somebody emailed me with the same sort of question.
One day, while out walking the dog, it occurred to me that I could get way out in front of all this time-consuming emailing by simply creating a summary of the stuff I saw that week (which I was doing in pieces anyway) and putting them all into one document that I could email to everybody.
This universe of ‘everybody’, at that time, consisted of about 100 people give or take. So I sent everybody an email and told them that was what I was going to do. They loved this idea and a few of them wrote back and said that if I did that they would be happy to forward this to the people on their email lists.
I thought that was a cool idea, because, hey, the more the merrier. and it was no skin off my nose, so to speak.
The Couch Potato Chronicles – The Brand
The first thing I did, beside the writing of the reviews, was to create a little logo that would identify my column and create a bit of a brand for it. I also added a little blurb to the end of my business emails to get my clients, associates and suppliers to sign up too. I mean, why not?
I chose the name the Couch Potato Chronicles simply because I liked the sound of it. I knew relatively little about art direction back then but I did know a few desktop publishing tricks and had some cool clip art and what you see here was really my first mash-up.
It hung together pretty well and has only gone through one upgrade since 1998.
The second thing I did was decide on a format. At first, it was really nothing more than a Word file saved as a PDF, with links to the IMDB (Internet Movie Database) page for whatever I was writing about.
But as I moved forward, I started adding features like a Spud spud rating system, some editorial content that was more industry related as opposed to movie or TV series-specific, and quotes from readers who would invariably email me back with their opinions/reactions.
As I evolved my art direction skills, I started building the columns in Quark Xpress to give them a little more style and give me a good format to work in.
I Was Blown Away By The Response
Within a couple of weeks of launching this column to a database of around 100 people, I started getting a steady stream of signup requests from a number of people not on my list.
These requests were coming from all over the world. So I started building onto my database. Going from 2 groups of about 50 people each to about 35 plus groups of 100 people within the first year.
It was at this point that I started to understand the real power of email marketing combined with social networking .
Things went on this way for close to a decade. And my readership grew into the low thousands. Because I’m not a stats person I had no real idea of exactly how big my circulation had grown. But I knew I was doing something right because one day, after reviewing Steven Spielberg’s movie, AI, I got a two-word email from Amblin Entertainment. It simply read: “Thanks…Steven”.
Through writing this column on a weekly basis (2000-3000 words), and having it distributed widely in, among other places, the Toronto advertising community, I was able to develop several very good client relationships, especially those I had with Herb Bond and Bull Tibbles, both of who had their own agencies at the time.
This was not an expected benefit because I was just doing this as a personal creative project. But it just goes to show you that if you have an idea and a focus and you are consistently out there, you will inevitably end up in somebody’s buying cycle at some point.
Real Social Media – What A Relief
By 2008 when I joined Facebook, I had written more than 500 columns. When I saw the potential reach I could have on Facebook. I retooled and wound down the email-based column into a series of shorter meme-style posts on Facebook, LinkedIn & BeBee, no more than a couple hundred words at the most.
This gradually eliminated the drudgery of keeping an email database current and also the physical act of emailing out to a core group that had grown to be about 7000. On Facebook alone, my friends list blossomed to more than 3500.
Today’s Couch Potato Chronicles
After taking a year off in 2016, mainly to move from Toronto to St Catharines, I converted the larger column into a series of single review memes, to run in tandem with everybody’s shrinking attention spans.
I now do at least one of these a week, and post them on the three aforementioned sites, plus a local, community site here in Niagara. So if you want to check them out, you can follow me on Facebook (JJMurray), LinkedIn or BeBee (Jim Murray)
The Couch Potato Chronicles covers TV series, movies, music, sports, books, websites, and pretty much anything else I think is interesting enough to write about.
There was a high level of writer satisfaction for me in creating all those long-format posts. It certainly got me inured to the process and that has served me well both on, Facebook, LinkedIn (until it went to hell), and beBee.
I think adults think more deeply about things than children do. I’ve always been interested in what my kids like. But for the most part, I get it, and sometimes it appeals to me, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s just the way it goes, and I think they understand that.
Wow, it’s interesting how your network grew! Sounds like a lot of work. But self rewarding. Thanks for sharing this
Thanks Eva Marie. Yeah, it was a lot of work. But it was fun. The reason I write these reviews is to let people know what I thought was worth watching. There’s nothing that fits more appropriately in the ‘time you’ll never get back’ category than the time you spend cruising through Netflix or Prime and trying to figure out if the show or movie will be worth watching. Since I am a writer, it doesn’t take me long to write these mini-reviews, and it saves me a lot of time on the phone explaining to people one on one, which was the reason for starting it in the first place.
I just maybe am now following you on gone-to-hell-LinkedIn because I am not active on the other platforms.
Otherwise, I mainly get my recommendations from my kids – not because I necessarily like all that they watch, but because 1) I am curious about what they might like, and 2) I want to signal to them that they are important enough for me to be curious about what they like.
The upside is that if they talk about it between themselves, I am not a total ignoramus on the subject of discussion. I have no problem with being an ignoramus on their series, but I very much do not want to signal disdain for their choices by being absolutely not interested.