The digital age has given writers amazing opportunities – connecting them to other writers and potential readers, facilitating the exchange of information and resources, and creating new channels to distribute content.
But there are implicit assumptions we all make about social media. After my Social Media Guilt post a few weeks ago, I said I wanted to explore this topic in greater detail, so here it is.
People engage in social media to connect first and foremost.
- to find like-minded individuals. Ex. I like to write, you like to write, so let’s be friends.
- to find experts and tastemakers. Ex. I want to stay on top of the writing industry, so I follow publishing professionals.
- to find consumers for their own content. Ex. I’m a writer so I’m going to build a blog to reach out to potential readers.
In all of these cases, writing could be substituted with, say, knitting or Civil War reenactment, or French cooking, or what-have-you. Most of us have interests outside of writing, and use social media to stay on top of the things we care about.
It is also important to note that there is a degree of self-interest associated with each of these reasons to connect with others. People use social media because there is a benefit to them using it. If there were no benefits, or if the benefits didn’t outweigh the negatives associated with social media, it wouldn’t work.
And there are degrees of involvement:
- Invisible consumer – Someone who seeks out content but does not engage with the creators/sharers of the content. Your classic lurker.
- Masked consumer – Someone who seeks out content and engages with creators/sharers of content on some level but uses an online persona to do so. For example, people who leave comments or follow people, but don’t use a real name or have any contact information.
- Visible consumer – Someone who seeks out content and engages with creators/sharers of content without hiding their true identity.
- Masked creator – Someone who creates content but does so using an online persona (like me).
- Visible creator – Someone who creates content and does so without hiding their true identity.
These are simplistic categories, and not mutually exclusive. And chances are, if you have a blog or a website or what-have-you, your followers are combination of all of these types of people.
So what does that mean?
Well, we have people connecting with each other for different reasons with different levels of involvement on the one hand. And on the other, we have analytics that only capture (or imperfectly capture) parts of the activities that comprise social media use and consumption. Things like blog hits, number of followers, RTs and mentions, likes and +1’s. Numbers, quantities, that supposedly illustrate the value of someone’s blog or twitter stream, whatever constitutes their social media presence.
And frankly, regardless of whether they are right or accurate, numbers matter in social media.
We are told ways to increase our followers, comments, etc. We are told that the numbers don’t really matter so long as you have an online presence. We are told numbers only matter depending on what stage of your career you are at.
We are numbers-obsessed as content creators, but consumers of content also rely on numbers to determine how relevant the content is to them. Especially with the glut of writing-related content out there, the importance of numbers and the endorsement of influential experts in the writing blog-o-sphere is huge.
As a content creator, I pay attention to:
- my number of blog and twitter followers
- comments on my blog posts
- RTs and mentions of my tweets
- Overall blog traffic
- Referring/incoming links
- Relative influence of my followers (based on, in part, you guessed it, numbers)
- Relative influence of people who RT/mention my tweets (based on numbers)
As a content consumer, I pay attention to:
- Who created the content (how visible are they?)
- Who endorsed the content (how influential?)
- How many followers do they have?
- How many people commented?
- Quality of blog layout
- Quality of content
Quality content, for me, is always king, but I’m more likely to give a post a chance to grab me depending on the other, primarily numeric, factors.
Lots of followers? I think, hmm, maybe this person really knows what they’re talking about. Lots of comments? I think wow, what an engaged following they have. But if I scan the comments and they are all clones of each other or bland “I agree” or “Author, you are so awesome,” I tune out.
Same with Twitter. I don’t auto-follow back someone. I see if they are relevant to me, and then I look at their followers to tweets ratio. Lots of followers but a small number of tweets? This is someone on a follower blitz, relying on people’s autofollow policies to inflate their numbers.
These are some of the things I look at when evaluating online content. There’s no right or wrong here, and I’m sure you look at content in different ways or weight things differently than I lay out here.
But I think it is important to analyze your own behavior when it comes to social media consumption, not only to better understand yourself and your online habits, but to also examine your own content and the way it can engage consumers.
So the next time you engage in social media, ask yourself what are your implicit assumptions in consuming and creating content. How are you really evaluating what you consume online?