How I Made My Online Diet Healthier in March

28 Mar 2012

Lovely Squash

The month of March blew through here surprisingly quickly, so it's already time to report on what I did this month to keep my online diet healthier. This month, I thought long and hard about audience numbers. This theme came up in last month's report, too - if I may be allowed to paraphrase myself:

We seem to have collectively decided that, in the internet age, we "have to" keep up with each other on every available social media channel. If you and I are friends, then I "should" be your Facebook friend, Twitter follower, contact on LinkedIn and circle-member on Google+, not to mention subscribed to your blog. And yet, nobody is equally interesting in all these spaces at once. Can't we choose where to follow each other?

There's a second side to that idea, though - it's this whole numbers game of social media. We all like to watch our numbers, don't we? How many blog subscribers do you have? How many Twitter followers and Facebook friends and all that? What's your Klout score?

number buttons

Image by fragmented, via Twitter

We like to believe that these numbers are important indicators of… what? Our popularity? Our legitimacy as human beings? Our future income? We want our numbers to go up and up, all the time, and we're sad if they decline. And on top of that, we put pressure on ourselves to have big numbers in every online space we inhabit.

Still, in this utterly spintered and overly-noisy online landscape, do our numbers really mean what we think they mean? I think we'd like to believe that our numbers represent the number of people who are actually paying attention to us online. But that's pretty easy to debunk - look at your own online habits. Are you, right now, subscribed to any blogs that you never actually read? Do you have Facebook or Twitter buddies whose updates you never actually pay attention to, let alone respond to? If so, you represent a "listener number" to each of these people, and yet you aren't listening. I'd bet that every single one of us does this. And I'd bet that every single one of us, as a result, has listeners who aren't listening.

20/141 Not Listening

Image by kurichan, via Flickr

Should we get upset with each other over this? Heck no! I think our obsession with our numbers comes from two sources. First, we're collectively enjoying the heady first blush of being publishers. For the first time in our histories, we have the opportunity to share who we are directly with an audience of like-minded souls. So of course we want as much of this feeling as possible!

Second, we're doing what we're hard-wired to do, which is smear our habitual old-media-era thinking all over a new media era. For most of our lives, we've watched magazines and TV shows and radio trumpet their audience numbers (as a means of attracting advertisers, but more on that in a moment). So it's very natural that we place such importance on them now. It just may not be so accurate or useful.

Number One
Image by John Ayo, via Flickr

…And that's because our online numbers game is often directly tied to the state of overload we feel online. If we feel that we "should" follow everyone we know in every space we inhabit, or we feel we "should" follow back everyone who follows us, it's not long before there's way more information coming at us than we can possibly digest. Along the road to growing big numbers, we can lose the things that make the web so compelling - personal connection and abundant resources.

I worked with my numbers in two ways this month. First, I spent time quietly unfollowing people on Twitter (all hail TwitCleaner) and removing people from my Google+ circles. (Just like last month, when I quietly unsubscribed from a number of blogs I just wasn't finding compelling anymore.) I know I'm hurting people's numbers by doing this - and in many cases, people I genuinely care about. But then again, it's not healthy for me to put the numbers before my own ability to use the crafty web as a tool for inspiration and connection.

number 2

Image by Leo Reynolds, via Flickr

On the other side of the coin, I practiced reframing how I see changes in my own numbers. I see daily ups and downs in my various subscriberships, and like most of us, I've always felt the "downs" as a little personal sting. (You mean you don't like me anymore?!)

But you know what? It's just as likely that each person who lets go of following my various feeds is really just taking healthy steps toward streamlining their online diet. Unless I see a mass exodus of readers, I'm committing myself to view the daily fluctuations in terms of other people's health, and to feel respectful toward them.

I think you deserve all the numbers you want. And going forward, if I'm going to be one of your numbers, I want to be one of the numbers that actually represents a listening human being.

The Advertiser
Image by Adelaide Archivist, via Flickr

Before I wrap up. I'll quickly caveat myself: of course, if you're selling ad space on your website, your numbers are important. Advertisers want to know how many "eyeballs" they're purchasing with their ad buy. And at this moment in time, most of them don't seem to be looking beyond the numbers themselves. So I might get a great big bubble of traffic from one of my blog posts hitting StumbleUpon, and what that really represents is thousands of people who looked at my website for maybe ten seconds each. It's a giant drive-by that ultimately doesn't gain me any meaningful audience. But a potential advertiser looks at those numbers and says "Goody!"

Even so, I don't see that model as sustainable, and I hope that in future advertisers will learn to look beyond the numbers for signs of real reader engagement.

Now, what do you think? Are there places you're following, but not listening? How important are the numbers to you? What do your numbers represent to you?


Well, I follow you on Twitter but your blog isn't in my feed--I either click a link from a tweet or come check it periodically. I wish I had some rhyme or reason to explain why I have some blogs in Reader and some I check in person, but I don't. I've recently unsubscribed to a bunch again that just weren't working out for one reason or another...I do that periodically, new ones in, and some out. It's like physical stuff. As more comes into the house, you have to make room, yes? I feel that way about the online stuff too.

My own numbers, I have no explanations for. I have a kids/art blog that I can go long stretches without posting to, but the traffic it gets is consistent and often higher than I'd expect (although not huge my any means). But rarely do I get comments. I think it's seen as a resource, but not necessarily as a community. My other blog ("my" crafting space) gets more comments but less traffic. I like the connections there.

This is a key idea you've shared here: "I think it’s seen as a resource, but not necessarily as a community."

That makes me want to think about how we might decode that as bloggers. What kinds of content build a resource blog, and what kinds of content build a community? And what benefits does one give you that the other doesn't?

Thanks for the food for thought, Amy!

That makes me smile big. What a lovely thing to say to your readers! I do think that sometimes, in the constant desire for more and more readers, we sometimes forget to appreciate the readers we already have. Thank YOU, Jennifer!

I just love you & the topics you raise here (& on Twitter) Diane! I would be lying if I said numbers didn't matter to me at all-they do. But they matter in ways that continue to surprise and sometimes disappoint me. When I first started blogging after buying OMHG I thought that an increase in traffic would ALWAYS be good but the more I watched our analytics vs. our engagement the more I realized that the traffic sometimes has a negative impact. More can definitely be less. I am so glad you mentioned having one of your posts Stumbled on-that was what really taught me how our traffic numbers have nothing to do with the real community I am cultivating. We got over 12k visitors in one day via SU & last year over 1 million visitors came to check out that one post-that get this, I don't even like that much AND none of our community members ever commented on. It is even by a contributor whose other contributions got less engagement then any other post on our site.

Going by numbers, if those mattered most, I would focus my attention on a certain type of tutorial catering to a very specific crafty mom market. Thank goodness I don't focus on them because I know I would never be able to sustain interest in editing that type of site. So I don't actually include those number in my media kit statistics because I think they are misleading. I would much rather keep to the 150-200k who visit & whose number is steadily increasing then worry about the random spikes that put us up to 250-300k or trying to sustain that level of readership.

That is another piece of my puzzle-I care about meaningful relationships, community and interaction. I honestly don't know whether it is even possible to maintain community once the number reaches a massive level. I have over 4k followers on Twitter now and have been growing at a rate of 10 followers a day for over a year-how am I supposed to interact meaningfully with that many people?! Its not possible. Rather then the numbers being exciting they started getting scary and overwhelming.

So I made a list of 40 of my closest online connections + supporters and I focus on maintaining relationships with them + my group of contributors + being open to connecting with new friends. That 40 is more vital to me then the rest of the 4000! I still check our analytics to see what parts of the world visitors are coming from + who is referring traffic to the site but I no longer view the traffic numbers as a benchmark for successful community building. I also check out our latest followers on Twitter always because I like to see who is reading my stuff & whether there is an opportunity to build a relationship. I see my community as successful not because one post has a hundred short comments but because almost every post has comments that are articulate, well thought out and contribute to a dialogue.

Sorry for my epic comment!!!! Something about your site does it to me every time:)

I love this comment, Jessika! Thank you so much. I've been hoping to hear from someone to whom the numbers do matter. And I like your balanced take on the subject. It's clear to me that you put a lot of energy into creating community on your site, and therefore I think that what you can offer to sponsors is of much greater value than a large, passive audience.

I agree with you re: Twitter. I'm at a point where I've almost completely stopped following people back, or checking my new follows. I cannot hope to keep up with the updates of everyone who follows me, no matter how much I may want to. I've narrowed my focus drastically there, too - though I use Twitter strategically now to reach out to specific people I'd like to connect with, but need a conversational opener.

It's a big, unwritten problem of growing a large community: at some point, there's a built-in inequality, and how do you manage that? My interest, like yours, isn't really in amassing eyeballs I can turn around and sell to sponsors. I want great conversation and mutual delight. And that does seem more possible at smaller scales.

Great post, thanks. I was starting to think I was the only one feeling overwhelmed by all these social media following and followers. I totally agree with the idea that you don't need to follow all the people you know on all media because you'll end up spending most of your time trying to keep up with irrelevant stories instead of designing or making things. To me that's where we really need a social media strategy: the question is not if we need to use them, but how and how much. This is still work in progress on my side but I'll be sure to share when I have figured out something.

Wow, I would love to get only THAT kind of unsubscribe from now on! :-) What a kind way to do it. I really like your characterization: "It wasn’t MY responsibility to make them happy, only to offer them something substantive to evaluate using their own metrics." Amen! I think we perhaps yearn for a single set of metrics, so we have some kind of easy-to-interpret landscape. But alas, the web is way too diverse for that. :-)

Nicely said - it really is about fostering the environment that best fosters your creativity!

Email blog subscriptions are so interesting to me! I resisted adding them here for a long time, thinking, "Who in the world would want to get blog posts in their email?!"

But people kept asking for the option, and when I added it, I was surprised to discover a separate community of folks who approach blog-reading exactly as you do, Christina - only a few, and only delivered by email. It was a powerful lesson in just how differently we're all beginning to approach our online info consumption.

I floated the idea recently of doing a daily sewing inspiration email, and folks were REALLY excited, so much so that I capped the list around 100 in the first 24ish hours in order to keep it manageable. I wrote the email and sent it five days a week for six weeks--it was a ton of work, but I got so much feedback that people were loving it. And then someone emailed me to unsubscribe, but with a note: she was simplifying her life, and my email wasn't going to make the cut. She thanked me nicely, said she's appreciated the time I spent writing, and signed off. And I felt so relieved. It allowed me to realize that it was OK to have someone decide ON THEIR OWN TERMS that what I was doing didn't float their boat. It wasn't MY responsibility to make them happy, only to offer them something substantive to evaluate using their own metrics. So I love my numbers, and am disappointed when a subscriber leaves, but I also have stopped sending that email and have allowed myself to do less better: fewer things, greater depth. So far, so good.

And as for advertising: I still maintain that you are allying yourself with someone else's brand, numbers be darned. So what if they get 10K hits a day? If you don't want to be thought of in the same breath as that site or blog or writer, it isn't worth the sacrifice of identity and potentially integrity to get the traffic. I was really struck by your encouragement for us all to READ the blogs where we advertise, because I think so few people do that--and the internet can be such a power for personal connection when we do it right!!

My blog numbers don't mean much to me anymore. I was accepted for advertising, but nothing has appeared. I drove myself crazy for over a month to make sure I did everything I needed to do for ads to appear. As far as I can tell, I did, so after a while and a huge letdown, I just post when I feel there is something to post about. I get enjoyment out of seeing where some readers live- that's still exciting to me. My blog reading is minimal, and has been after I realized how much time I was taking away from MY work. I breeze through pretty fast, and if something catches my eye, I read it. I guess my conclusion is: if it's NOT pertinent to my living and breathing and artwork, it's not for me. I love to blog- don't get me wrong. I've just stopped trying to analyze everything. Thank you for this post. It gets me thinking!

Great post!! A little over a year ago I evaluated all of this myself. I found myself being too stressed out over having to keep up with everyone and what was going on and I finally just gave up. Now I try and keep up with what really matters and I honestly have time for. Twitter has mostly gone by the wayside, i've never been one for Facebook, and blogs take up a lot less of my day now. I have found the best way to keep up is to have those blogs that I want to keep the most up to date on delivered to my email. This works best for me, but i'm careful to not let blogs overrule my inbox. I also took off the "followers" widget on my blog and I have never been much of one to watch numbers. I have always wanted my followers to be followers because they truly are interested in what I have to say and share. I still try to make it easy for people to follow in the way that best suits them, I just don't care about the numbers. If someone is interested in me, let them be interested in the content.

I got a lot out of reading this post and all of the comments associated with it. Connections are what I deep-down WANT, but sometimes I think I NEED the numbers. I was reminded of this post as I was writing my most recent blog post. I wrote to my readers, in part, "You make this blog fun! It takes a community to make a blog. You're my community, so thank you!" And thank you, Diane! :-) Jennifer

Thank you for this very timely post, as I am a new blogger (9 posts so far) and new tweeter and still trying to figure it all out. Trying hard not to watch the numbers -it's so hard not to. Want to make sure I find the platforms that work best for me. Not possible for them ALL to be a fit.

Hello Diane,

Right on! This is an excellent post. I totally agree with fact I do not even have a Face need for that.
Call me old fashioned but I still enjoy talking on the phone {with those I can}. Emailing and texting with others...

I only blog {love blogging}, tweet and do linking with others {a little}. That is it!

Numbers are very important but they do change and fluctuate.
I guess they also tell me how good I am doing with a post, a tutorial, etc. Or not...traffic depends on so many things.


What an interesteing post! I blog mainly just for me so numbers aren't really that important. Having said that, I did have a Google Friend Connect widget with about 50 followers but now I have no idea how many I have as it's been dropped for non Blogger blogs. I have to admit that for about 2 days I worried. But then I thought, hang on, did they all really read what I was rambling on about? Probably not.

I subscribe to a lot of blogs. I use a feed reader to keep me updated. I do read them all, leaving comments when I feel I have something appropriate to say. I have, however, unsubscribed to a few in the past when they no longer feel relevant to me.

I do much the same with Twitter, Facebook and podcasts. Every time I get overwhelmed with all this social media, I go through it all and have a purge. I'm still curious as to who does "follow" me, I think we all are. Is it vanity? Well, maybe a little :)

I think it might be human nature! Who wouldn't want to know who's listening to what we say? And you just gave me an idea: the more we can know who's listening, the more confident we can feel about our blogging, because we understand exactly who we're speaking to. So maybe, in the act of losing non-listening readers, we're really gaining a great gift: the of focused attention of the group that remains with us.

My numbers are important to me because I like knowing that I've been heard. The most important number is the amount of time someone spends on my blog, though. I'd rather have five people really reading what I write than get loads of page views that only average a few seconds. I also use my numbers to figure out if I'm doing something right, if my marketing works or if a new style of post is received well.

I try to not look at the number of subscribers because that doesn't tell me anything useful. I don't know if those people are really reading or for how long or when. All that number does is either inflate my ego or make me feel bad.

Ooh, good point, Andi! Subscriber numbers probably do mean a lot less than they used to. When subscribing was new, the prevailing wisdom was to get lots of subscribers because those people would be consistently listening to us. But of course, we know that isn't true anymore. In this overcrowded age of information, even information we wanted, if it shows up repeatedly, has a way of losing its gloss.

My FB numbers mean nothing to me. I don't even look. I think it's weird - to me it would be like walking into a room of friends and counting out loud, saying "I have 11 friends and you only have 6, but you have 15."

Similarly on Twitter, I don't either. Maybe to my detriment because I forget to scope out new followers. I measure both places by the number of meaningful/fun/helpful chats I have. If I'm connecting, I'm happy. If not, I realize I've fallen into the selfish trap of wanting people to respond to me, but I'm not looking to respond to them. :P

I do check my Instagram and Pinterest numbers. They are both places that send me the most new blog traffic and new friends/makers. I also use them both constantly so I am interested in how they influence me and how I influence others. It translates pretty directly into understanding what I'm making or going to make for me. And into how people find and perceive my blog.

I probably check Analytics a couple times a week. It starts out as an ego thing "ooh, what are my numbers now?" but has really shaped into being a great learning tool for how people use and read blogs. Even though I've been a regular blog reader for years, it's still incredibly insightful to see how people react to things by looking at your own numbers.

I got off Klout ages ago because I thought it was stupid.

The only time I feel down about numbers is when I pour my heart and soul into a post and get crickets. Or if I feel like I went out on a limb in some way. I'm still terrible at predicting what posts people will respond to, almost to a hilarious extent. The ones that I think people will grab onto, they don't, and the ones I'm not sure if anyone will care about, they do. Which is why Analytics has been such a teacher for me.

One caveat is that I've now written long enough that I know that some of the posts that often get crickets, anti-trafficking ones being the easiest example, percolate and build up in the back of people's minds over time. It's good to be at a point where my readers and I have several points of conversation going on that I can keep circling back to, knowing the regulars will get it.

It always comes back to communication and connection, doesn't it?

You are such an excellent discussion producer and facilator, Diane.

My Mom and I were just discussing your anti-trafficking posts in exactly that way - while we may find ourselves scrolling past individual ones, their recurring presence over time has opened our eyes to look for this issue in many other contexts of our lives.

... And both Mom and I totally have that same thing happen all the time - we sweat blood over a post and nothing happens. Then we pop something out at the last moment and it gets all kinds of traffic. And we can't begin to figure out exactly why this happens.

Thank you, as always, for your thoughtful contribution to this discussion!

I was interested and bit shocked when I recently noticed that my twitter followers had exceeded my blog subscribers. I don't think the twitter followers are as interested in what I do as the blog subscribers though. Actually, I am not really sure why all those Rap musicians are following me...
Also, I stopped looking at my blog stats except very rarely, about 2 years ago. I found it was stressing me out. There was nothing I wanted to change about how I was doing the blog, so what difference was it going to make. I had to wean myself off though- I was addicted to those numbers!

You're welcome. I think your free discussions in general and your monthly reports specifically have had this affect on people. They may not always know what to comment on a "supporting free" post, but I think reading the posts over time have a great impact on our community.

I feel that an accurate way of measuring engagement is the number of comments in a non-giveaway post or the number of entries in a community event. I personally don't subscribe to any blogs that I don't actually read. I agree - it's just about reality because time is limited. It's not because I don't like the people behind blogs I don't subscribe to.

I think another reason that it's very easy to get caught up in the "numbers game" is that it seems to give us some kind of reward for our efforts? Many times, our efforts aren't validated or recognized or measured, but statistics are all about measure and rating. This can lead to us focusing more on activities that give us statistics, instead of other areas where there is no direct feedback. We feel like we get "payoff". Maybe this sometimes leads to a kind of quantity over quality mentality?

I've left Facebook, faded out of being active on Twitter, and try to remind myself to not feel hurt when someone unsubscribes from my channels. What's the point in listeners who are too overwhelmed to listen? Readers who don't read? This has freed up a lot of time and energy for me.

On the social media scene, Instagram (a photo sharing service) has been an interesting discovery for me. By sharing photos of your creative business, I feel that the time I invest, gives me much more in the long run. It sparks my creativity. I get photos to keep. Some of them I might use on my blog or press kit. And that's barely something I can say about my tweets and other social media expressions aside from blogging.

Wow, fascinating comment, Kate - thank you so much! I'd have to agree; those numbers really can seem like the only tangible reward for my blogging/social media efforts sometimes. (They really aren't the only one; it just feels that way sometimes.)

You and Elizabeth have both mentioned Instagram, and I like your consideration of what specific benefits your participation there brings you. Interestingly, participation itself is only one of those benefits!

About a year ago, I got rid of every single reminder of my numbers:
-I don't get any twitter following info (either when people follow or stop following)
-I don't get any email subscriber info (subscribing or unsubscribing) and I don't look at it when I send emails (I look at it after the fact, about a week after sending an email, to asses the results from a distance)
-I don't have any idea what my blog subscriber numbers are
-I only use Google Analytics to see what path people take on my site (thanks to your great videos, Diane!), and how long people stay on a sales page, or where they click next.

It's hard, because I feel like I "should" be tracking these things...but you know what? As long as I have conversations (real, email or twitter, back-and-forths), I think I'm doing ok.
I try to keep the data as a TOOL, not as a measurement (in other words, it's a sewing machine, not a measuring tape) - it helps me build a good path for customers, or helps me find out what people like talking about...but it doesn't tell me how good *I* am.

Of course, I have to remind myself of this 5 times a week :)

That's so well-said, Tara! I've chipped all those notices out of my stream over the past year, too. I agree with you - the numbers in and of themselves don't have any bearing on the success of my blog OR business - only the connections do.