The word of the week is “appropriation”, specifically cultural appropriation and “white belly dancers”. Chances are you’ve seen a ton of talk on Facebook, Twitter, Shira.net and other belly dance blogs about the Randa Jarrar article in Salon, Why I Can’t Stand White Belly Dancers. And now, a counter article has appeared in an equally prestigious publication, the Atlantic, entitled In Praise of Polyglot Culture-and Multicultural Belly Dancing. [Edited to add: Now there’s a THIRD. This just in from the Washington Post
Right now, I don’t give a rat’s a$$ about white belly dancers or brown belly dancers or blue and purple polka-dot belly dancers. (And truthfully, neither does Salon or The Atlantic.) I’m not trying to belittle the great conversations people are having about the topic. But I want you to see what’s actually happening, how major media outlets are profiting from your outrage, and how you can turn the tables and profit, too.
Truth #1: Websites exist to make money.
You know it. I know it. Everybody knows when they go to a major news website like the Huffington Post or even the New York Times, those sites are trying to make money. They do that with advertisements — on the sidebar, embedded in the article, pop-ups over your article, pop-unders after you close your browser. Ads are everywhere, they can even follow you around from website to website. (That’s a whole ‘nother lesson!) What you might not know is that website gets paid even if you don’t click the ads. It gets paid just to show you the ad. It’s called pay-per-view advertising, and it can be very lucrative.
Truth #2: The more traffic a webpage gets, the more money it makes.
The more views a certain article gets, the more money it makes from the ads on the page. And the longer you stay on the site, the more money it makes. This is why some sites load slower than others, it artificially inflates the view time. (Yes, smart coders can control the load times, and which parts of the site load in what order.) This is also why sites that make money this way tend to have longer articles, long slide shows, videos to watch — anything that keeps you on the page. It’s also why they split up an article in to multiple pages instead of leaving it all on one page. When you click to the next page of the same article, they get to serve you different ads, and they make more money. Their ultimate goal is to keep you on the site clicking from interesting article to interesting article as long as possible.
In many cases, time on page and clicks are the only way the author of the article gets paid. So if they understand how to manipulate people’s behavior, they can do very well. That leads us to the next truth.
Truth #3: Journalists use highly incendiary topics and titles to attract traffic.
The more people get pissed off about something, the better off the website is.
Guess what? Belly dancers are pissed! Most likely, you never even thought about cultural appropriation until this article popped up and dancers started sharing it like crazy. It doesn’t matter whether you liked the article or hated it — it was talking about a subject dear to your heart, so you clicked. And Salon made money. You shared it on Facebook. And Salon made money. You blogged about it and tweeted about it. And Salon made money. The Atlantic paid attention and wrote a response article (smart people!) Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching.
They used your passion to manipulate you and make money. Don’t feel bad, though, it’s not the first time. Remember the huge blow up over the Dallas Observer article about Yaa halla Y’all back in 2011? It lasted for weeks! Even though it was a big black eye for them in our community, I seriously doubt they cried a tear. They made money. And the convention got a TON of publicity in their target audience, too. Many dancers commented that they would make the trip to attend the convention now, just to show support. We’re not alone, though. The media do the same thing to all sorts of passionate niche groups from knitters to NASCAR fans. It’s easy, and they’re very good at it.
So how can you profit from incendiary topics that put belly dance in the mainstream news?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher or performer. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a rural location or in a big city with tons of bigger name dancers. It doesn’t matter if you’re tribal or cabaret. Anytime belly dance (or the Middle East in general) is mentioned in the mainstream media, that’s your opportunity for free publicity. Here are some of the best ways to capitalize on the controversy.
Strategy #1 – write a blog post about it and link to the original articles.
I’m doing it right now. Do you think it’s a coincidence that I linked to the inflammatory articles using their original titles? When people search for the original articles on Google, now my article will show up, too. It’s called media drafting. You comment on a trending story or event, and draft off the traffic from the original story. Also, other belly dancers will comment and share the article, which is great if that’s who you’re trying to attract. If you bring your post to the attention of the greater arts community in your local area, they will jump on the bandwagon and spread it around. Of course, you do have to make sure they see it, so mention them in the article and tag them or email them about it.
Strategy #2 – write a press release about the controversy and mention the original articles.
Controversy is an awesome news hook! Belly dance and the wider conversation of racism are being discussed right now in not one, but
TWO THREE major mainstream news sources. JUMP ON THIS IMMEDIATELY!!! It’s a massive publicity opportunity. If you wait a week, it’s too late. Some other conversation will have the spotlight by then and nobody will care.
Salon and The Atlantic are huge, authoritative sources. Any local TV station, newspaper, radio station, or magazine will often recognize the names and run with a story you suggest just because of the cache those sites have. Local media have a huge burden to produce unique content 24/7. And any time they can run pretty pictures, they usually will. (I know, that’s not what you’re about… but that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from it.)
Send a press release or TV segment proposal. Mention what the controversy is all about and offer to comment about it as a local belly dancer. It doesn’t matter which side of the controversy you agree with, talk about it intelligently. In fact, if you have a studio with two dancers, offer to present the argument from both sides! Want to manipulate the media right back? You send in a press release taking a Pro stance. Then have your partner send in a separate release taking a Con stance. If a TV station gets two press releases on the same unusual topic, with other mainstream media already talking about it…that’s just too good to resist!
Strategy #3 – Use hashtags to attract attention on Twitter
Hashtags are used to search Twitter for trending topics or to find other people talking about a topic. Using hashtags like #donttellrandajarrar #whitebellydancers #arabspring #egypt will get your name and your post noticed by other people using or searching for those same tags. Pay attention to the trending topics on Twitter and jump into the conversation any way you can. This strategy isn’t so great for local publicity, unless you know the local hot hashtags. Which brings us to strategy #4.
Strategy #4 – Talk up the controversy in the right places on social media
Before you use any of these ideas, think about whom you’re trying to attract as a customer. Who is your target audience? Where do they hangout? Are they Facebook users or do they prefer Instagram? (Here’s a hint, it mostly depends on how old they are.) Are they local housewives looking to lose a few pounds or belly dance fanatics who travel the country from festival to festival? Those groups require two completely different approaches. If you want to use social media to attract students to a local class, you want to be present on local social media sites. If you want to attract fanatics, you want to be present on belly dance sites. Why do you think Miles Copeland spent so much time stirring up controversy on Bhuz.com and Gilded Serpent and any other belly dance site he could find? His primary audience is belly dancers. We spread the word about the Belly Dance Super Stars for him, by taking sides on a made up controversy.
Controversy and arguments are a gold mine if you’re ready for them
It does no good to write an article or land a sweet TV spot if your website sucks, or you don’t have a media page, or you don’t know how to write a press release or you don’t even know the controversy is happening at all. It’s important to have your marketing ducks in a row ahead of time. So when news like this breaks, you are the first one to jump on it. You get the publicity and the new clients and students that can come from it. You are the one people come to see at the local Greek restaurant. You get the opportunity to have “As seen on ABC News” on your website. And when the next media scandal hits, you will be the person the media calls on for comment.
You can’t stop the media from manipulating topics you hold dear. It’s their job to get you all riled up and pissed off. And the more divided people are on the subject, the better. So, why not take advantage of the situation and get a little free publicity for yourself? It gives you a chance to sound off on your side of the argument, and it might just put some cash in your pocket.
In fact, what a great idea!
Here’s my personal challenge:
I will personally pay $50 to the first belly dancer who sends me a clip of them on their local TV talking about this controversy. Email a link to Julie@BellyDanceBusinessAcademy.com (I think I have to have a deadline. So, email me by March 16, 2014.) I want to see YOU get a great big win out of this crazy media storm. So, go send out a press release. You have nothing to lose.
Did you like this article? Share it on Facebook!
Did I piss you off? Good! Share it on Facebook!
(See what I did right there?)
Also, if you want to learn how to write press releases, attract students to your studio or market your business in general…