Follower Count, Popularity, + Your Holy Grail

A high follower count. Engagement. More RTs than that frenemy of yours. Enough likes to fill your heart, or so you’d think.

That’s the goal, right? I mean, what we’re all really going for?

Although I’m not sure how exactly I came across it yesterday, I ended up reading Anil Dash’s article on having 550K followers on Twitter, but not actually being, well… famous. And how it works and how it also doesn’t. One of the best things about the piece is that it literally shows you how having that many followers does not actually mean much, as you don’t get that many RTs (all things considered) or any real cool perks. Instead you get assholes spamming you to share their product, people that don’t actually care about you, they only care that you might be somebody.

The piece also shows us that we want to know that someone sees us, listens to us, validates our existence by reflecting part of themselves back on us, in the form of a comment or like.

From the article, “What becomes clear after a few years of having a large social network is that people are desperate to be heard… much of it ties back to people feeling powerless, of flailing toward any person who seems like they could provide opportunity or a way forward… But the truth is, our technological leaders have built these tools in a way that explicitly promotes the idea that one’s follower count is the score we keep, the metric that matters.”

Did you get that? Things were built so we can judge ourselves on our follower count. Things someone else built. Things that aren’t even very important in the grand scheme of life. (If you’re really wondering about this, go ask your grandmother about Twitter’s legacy.)

On a similar theme, Meighan O’Toole wrote another great post about this, reminding us that “social media is about business.” Someone else’s.

We use social media to be heard and either distill our true selves into a feed that’s a perfect amalgam of who we are or concoct a feed that shows who we want to be. And I think that it’s this distillation that we seek, this crystalization of who we are at our truest essence, whether we’re showing the world the true us or a false sense of self. We use these systems and platforms to show ourselves to the world, but if we’re not careful, we can forget who we are in the process.

Our follower counts make us feel like we are missing out on the party if we don’t follow someone with lots of followers and like there’s nothing to miss if the counts are too low. We feel embarrassed when we post something that gets very few likes, especially if we were truly enamored with the photo or thought. We mistake the silence, which doesn’t mean you’re a failure, but that perhaps your friends are busy cooking a delicious meal, your cousins are at a movie, and your Mom is taking a nap. And in letting this affect us, we’re changing who we are to become people sharing for validation, not because we want to connect.

So what if we reframed the silence? And didn’t think any less of ourselves because of it?

The great thing about the internet is that we don’t always know who’s looking at our posts, especially if we’re using social media, as we don’t own the stats. If we post what makes our hearts sing, a lonely teenager in Greenland may find it and find solace and someone else may beam at a memory that your photograph evokes. If they don’t comment or like, that doesn’t mean they didn’t like it or didn’t see it… but we discount all those non-commenters by only caring about the ones who did comment. We discount their very experience with our content.

Think about it, how many times do you read something online and agree with it and don’t comment because it’s too much of a pain to deal with CAPTCHA or you’re in a hurry or your bus just went into an area with no spotty wireless? And how many times do you read something that really resonates, but don’t comment because you feel like you’ll sound stupid or won’t add anything new or it hits a really vulnerable (and good) place and you can’t possibly choose the right words?

The internet needs good content amidst the fluff. We need you for who you are, not on a projection of you solely based on likes. We need you to be a beacon someone can cling to when they feel all alone or the answer to someone’s problem or the reason someone smiles. We need you to show up despite the possible silence. We need you to strive to put out content that makes people think, without caring about the response. We need you to make good content, tag it well, and fall in love with it because it’s good. And because you never know who it will find or help.

The internet needs you. Not another asshole who posts a bad joke because he knows someone from 3rd grade will RT it. We need good content to be your Holy Grail, not high engagement. We need you to show up. Because your people will find you when you are really you. You will build your own community based on people that like this real you. And yes, you will be heard. But first, first you, the youest you, need to dare to show up.

ETA: So OMG, the cool widgetized links aren’t being found when you click on the pics at the bottom here. I changed the link for my blog, not realizing I also needed to go back and change things in the 600-old posts, too. Holy crap. I’m working on it, please bear with me. Should anyone have a magical fix, please let me know!

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11 Responses to Follower Count, Popularity, + Your Holy Grail

  1. Rebecca April 28, 2015 at 10:33 pm #

    Oh my, gently searing words that resonate with anyone who had ever tried to find their voice amidst the siren songs of hearts, hits and comments. Those rocks are jagged and your words steer me towards the calm water.

    • Betsy April 29, 2015 at 11:52 am #

      Aw, thanks, Rebecca!! I think we all have so much struggle with what we’re doing, which all that really matters is that we are authentic and true. xx

  2. Kate April 29, 2015 at 1:11 am #

    Yes to all of this. I’ve recently been discovered by Instagram spammers. I didn’t get it at first and was all oh goody, they like me!, but quickly realized what it was because they’re all in marketing and their photos are all luxury goods so i can’t imagine that they “like” my knitting pics.
    The funniest was the other day, i posted a photo of some baby ducks in a pond and one of the spammers commented “trop stylé” (french for wicked or bad-ass or awesome etc). And i was like Really? Baby ducks? Ok.

    • Betsy April 29, 2015 at 11:53 am #

      Thanks, Kate! Yeah, I’ve been getting some of those same spammers. I <3 the duck comment, maybe they were just bored of spamming and wanted to see some cute lil' duckies!

  3. Kiffanie April 29, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    Yes, yes, and yes! This is just what I needed to hear this week.

    I talk about a scary topic that most creatives would rather avoid, the law. I know that I shouldn’t compare myself to those talking about fun topics, but at times it’s hard not to. And the silence can make me second guess myself and this path I’m on.

    But it’s true, I’m slowly connecting and building a community of creative business owners who are willing to talk about these things. And making sure that I continue to help them is the most important thing. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Betsy April 29, 2015 at 3:47 pm #

      Hooray and I’m so glad it resonated, Kiffanie! As someone who also writes about trauma, I know how you feel about writing about scary topics! And then you look at the dozens of likes on a post about the world’s fluffiest animals or photos of donuts and wonder if you’re doing it all wrong! But… you’re not, it’s just a different kind of reaction that you’re getting from people, because your work resonates instead of just stays on the surface… you’re sharing things that people *need* to hear vs. sharing lots of bunnies. (No offense, bunny posters, we need you, too!)

  4. Angelique May 1, 2015 at 12:32 am #

    Amazing post, thank you. I’m pretty new to posting on social media (I’m a long-time lurker), and it’s such a weird experience. I definitely am one of those people who reads great stuff but doesn’t often comment, for various reasons. This is a good reminder that everyone does that, and I need to just keep being me and keep blogging and tweeting and posting, even if I don’t get tons of “engagement”. And I should try to comment more often if I dig someone’s stuff, just like I’d respond to and compliment them if we were chatting in real life.

    • Betsy May 1, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

      Yes! There’s no problem with lurking, but cognitive dissonance if you’re not responding to people’s posts yet fretting about people not responding to your own. Not saying it’s quid pro quo, but that it’s necessary to see that not everyone comments on things and that doesn’t mean they don’t like it! I’m trying to be more cognizant of telling people I like their work… instead of thinking I need to say something more in depth… am email to someone saying, “Wow, I think you’re great!” feels good for both parties! :)

  5. Heather May 6, 2015 at 12:22 am #

    I think we’re due for a return to the roots of the internet. Content generated by individuals not corporations! Just think, blogging could be retro cool! And after the last attacks by Chinese robots, I don’t even look at my stats anymore. The best thing was sitting at a craft table this past weekend at the Spring Fair at our island commons, and having a lovely young woman come up to me and say she lurks on my blog and she loves knitting! The personal connection is happening whether we are aware of it or not.

    • Betsy May 12, 2015 at 6:10 pm #

      I love the idea of blogging as “retro cool,” Heather! My stats include a bunch of weird referrers for SEO stuff that I have nothing to do with, so they’re mainly useless… And you found a lurker in the wild, how very exciting!


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