The internet is the new high school cafeteria. We all have our people. My own evolving relationship with my internet circles and social media followers (or friends or subscribers…) has been hugely responsible for many of the big, exciting changes I’ve made recently to my career, to my writing and in my plans for the future. Overall, I must say I’ve had a tremendously positive experience. I love making these new connections, even though sometimes it kinda feels like my interwebbings are mimicking relationships I have with real people in real life: often they come and then sometimes they also go. It’s not without complications and sometimes we are left wondering if we are doing it right.
Blogging and writing books happen to be a hobby (and for some, a career) in which social media participation is pretty mandatory, like it or not. The old saying remains true for most of us who do it: Don’t write (or blog, or post pics to Instagram, or travel) for the fame, do it for the love of the artform. If you write (or blog, or post pics to Instagram, or travel) out of love, the fame and perhaps even the money may follow. Usually it doesn’t, but I still believe in that philosophy with all my heart. I can also admit to understanding the importance of an authentic (loyal) fan base and I am still figuring out how to build one of those without sacrificing any of my many writing philosophies. I’ve learned a few cool things over the years that I feel I should share with people who might be just like me, people who feel late to and ill-equipped for the Social Media world, in the hopes that new bloggers and aspiring writers (especially older ones) will not take the brutalities of the Follow/Unfollow world too much to heart. I’m not even close to an expert on how the algorithms of the internet work, but I can tell you with authority what has happened to me.
First, don’t beg for your followers and don’t ever sign up for a program that provides or sells them. Secondly, Follow trains and other similar pleas of “I am almost to 5k, go follow me!” come off a bit desperate in my opinion, and they don’t encourage me to make that connection. Most of the time, I’ve found that people who either promote their own FTs or those who just jump on someone else’s will soon see nothing more than an increase in the frustrating Follow/Unfollow patterns that make us all insane. By definition, jumping on that follow train to nowhere doesn’t bring you to interesting new content, it won’t put you in the niche circles you want to be in and there is no personal feedback from this action. Really, building a following in this way feels more like a whole series of really bad first dates. Save yourself the rejection.
My web designer/IT guru finally gave up trying to convince me that any successful blogger/writer/author must have a huge email subscriber list. I fought her on this for years, arguing that I honestly believe we are getting away from email altogether. In the next decade I think there will be something newer, hopefully better and I am absolutely certain email is about to go the way of the FAX and I, for one, couldn’t be happier about that. Trust your instincts on this of course, but don’t define yourself by the number of people who subscribe to your emailed notifications. How archaic. I make it so much easier than that for my readers by posting my content on Facebook and Twitter in real time. Most writers and bloggers do the same. My readers don’t need to do anything but check their social media and there I am, fresh off the press.
Twitter Lists and Suggested Content
Scour the Lists of your favorite Tweeters or Instagrammers for articles and pictures you already enjoy. Peruse their posts and retweets for funny commenters or witty videos that you want to see popping up on your feed and follow them. Look for content that is similar to the authentic accounts you already follow. Find your favorite Tweeters and Instagrammers and go check out who their Followers are. Using this system, the Follow Backs will come naturally because you’ve made a connection with that person and they’ve made a connection with you because of your shared interests. Will you get 1,000 Followers in one day by doing this? Nope. But you’ll get a whole bunch, and those people will stick around permanently, especially if you establish a commenting rapport with them. If you see something you like, Follow them, but do it without expecting anything in return. And if they don’t follow you back, don’t take it personally.
Side note: I really like it when I see that someone I like on Twitter also has an Instagram, and vice versa, and they send me from one site to another with a link and a nudge to “Go check me out.” That’s actually helpful. I don’t consider those referrals to be desperate at all and they have helped me find the awesome content I love all across the web.
Beware of the Bot
Here’s what to watch out for. If you notice that someone has followed you who has tens of thousands of followers but only 21 posts on Instagram, something is wrong. That person is not real. Best to walk away from that nonsense because that Follower will drop off in about three days and you’re left wondering what you did wrong. Those are bots, and they constitute about 15% of all Twitter and Instagram accounts. Likewise, a person who follows you on Twitter who appears to have absolutely no personal content whatsoever is probably dropping in via an algorithm and not actually reading your stuff anyway because, again, they aren’t a real person. Bots travel in groups and produce follows in large bursts, and they definitely bump your numbers up, but it’s only temporary, and who cares about that follower if there’s no collaboration or camaraderie, right?
Most importantly, don’t unfollow someone just because they unfollowed you. Be a grownup. If you like their content, stick around for it. If you don’t, you shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
I’ve also had some success with well-crafted hashtags. Again, you won’t see incredible traffic bursts with this method, but people who are searching for breathtaking pictures of #PensacolaBeach #sunsets, #dogs and #Jeeps will undoubtedly come across my stuff, and if you post regularly about the same kinds of things, like I do, those people will start one-stop shopping with a Follow directly to your page instead of just looking up the hashtags they like. These people are real and they stay around for you.
Finally, be yourself and let go of your obsession over the numbers. When I see the data-generated tweets about people who are tracking their follows and unfollows, it makes me sad. It’s awkward. Don’t do that. Tweet your best content, post your pictures and let your tribe find YOU.
There is a fascinating new episode of Black Mirror on Netflix called Nose Dive and it’s about this exact thing I’m talking about. Essentially, a futuristic Follow-driven world has us swipe-rating each other constantly with our phones. Say you have a good interaction with the checkout girl at Publix. You swipe her an instant score of 5/5 stars and her overall rating as a person goes up. Likewise, if your child’s teacher gives your kid a bad grade, you could give her 1/5 stars and her overall rating as a human being will go down. All of this is viewed constantly in real-time by everyone. Can you imagine?!?! With this dystopic system, eventually our credit scores are replaced by our Follow ratings. The nicest, most people-pleasing people have 4.8/5 stars and up and are permitted to get upgraded to the next new iPhone and buy a brand new car while the people who say bad words, or lose their tempers, or rudely answer the phones at your local water company have 1.2/5 stars and won’t be allowed to eat at the best restaurants or order an Uber.
Let’s all hope and pray it doesn’t ever come to that. We can help by using social media for what it was designed to do: connecting the world through sharing. Keep it positive, surround yourself with people and content you enjoy and let that be enough. If you’re doing good work, your Followers will find you. Be someone others want to be around and the rest will take care of itself.