It was just about the rudest comment I’d ever seen: “Give up, mate … no-one gives a s*** about your stupid label and the s*** music you release…”. It wasn’t quite true: many, including me, cared quite a bit about this brave little indie, but it is a Have Not in the digital world, and with that, I can sympathize.
It’s very difficult to gauge hierarchy because it changes so fast: one week this little blog has more readers than the biggest magazine I wrote for; the following week, almost none. White Swan Events, I call them – unpredictable storms of traffic activity, but it’s dangerous to read too much into them, either way, because
Rule 1: Visibility does not equal engagement
There are so many strategies to drive up traffic and almost all of them are worthless. Making a point earlier, I demonstrated how effective a cynically misleading title could be, but no traffic stats could tell me how many people actually read the article through.
It’s like having hundreds of Facebook friends: most of those people don’t even know you, let alone really like you. Take away the virtual strangers and you’re left with a very small number of people who genuinely care. It’s a crushing blow to the ego to recognise that, but it’s important to target your resources effectively: on the people who give a s***.
Rule 2: Be honest – who cares?
I made a mushroom house for my play-elf. In other words, I used Skyrim‘s Creation Kit to make a dwelling for my game character and uploaded it. I started a thread for it on the official forums and waited for the enthusiastic praise to pile in. It was a long wait: not one person responded. I wondered if it was because people hadn’t spotted that it was out, but the grim truth was that while the normal ratio is 10 views for every download, this had less than 5%. People knew about it, but they just plain weren’t interested.
Visibility does not equal engagement.
I had a honest self-pitying whine on another forum and got a sympathetic response from the Small, Highly Engaged Audience. These are the people who are passionate about what I’m doing and will actively pursue it. These people will download it, play the hell out of it and give valuable, honest, constructive feedback. Each person there is worth more than 1000 casual page glances.
Rule 3: It’s not you, it’s me
Those many hundreds – thousands – of people clicking on the page and then clicking away were telling me something: that they just weren’t terribly interested in what I was doing. I wondered if it was because there were other, similar mods to mine, but the other little mushroom-houses were rather functional affairs without the pretty ivy detailing and scatter-cushions of my mod.
What other people wanted was just a simple, functional space to store their in-game items. What I wanted to make was something whimsical and pretty. Where you get that disparity in priorities is pretty much the sole reason you’re not more popular. Sure, I could say that since people aren’t clicking on this page, they’re not making that sort of informed choice, but when they’re scrolling through search engine results, they’re deciding that they don’t want to read about Post-Dictatorial Troll-Hop.
Don’t blame other people for not liking the same bizarre s*** that you do.
Rule 4: Content Is King
Curious, I did read a few articles on search engine optimization, which mostly conclude that they just keep changing their algorithms to stop people exploiting the system. You could, alternatively, pay an agency like PRWeb to throw out links to your site, but that’s something like £50 per item, which is great if it’s your band’s new record but pointless if you’re a blog and you’re getting 100,000 hits one day and 23 the next.
The one advice that did stick was a chart giving points for each component, giving the most points to the single most important factor: your content. Take a really good look at what you’re doing: is the reason people aren’t interested in it because it’s just crap? Chances are, it’s not, it’s fine, but you must always challenge yourself to the highest standards, if only to please the Small, Highly Engaged Audience.
It could be something else, though: think of the core values when you initially built up your (blog, band, game, etc.) and ask yourself honestly if those values have changed. Reasons I have stopped reading publications: they got too snarky or laddish or obsequiously flattering. If you gained your followers through your informative book reviews, you’ll lose them all when you won’t shut up about politics.
Rule 5: Liberate Yourself
I’m currently reading A Game of Thrones, and there’s a bit where a character says you should take ownership of your weakness – turn and face it and really take hold of it – because then nobody can ever use it against you. My weakness, if I’m really honest, is that I want to be liked but I’m ultimately not willing to make the sacrifices necessary to be popular.
If you’re making a choice not to try and please everyone all the time, take ownership of that – that is your liberation. It’s like how my favourite musicians, instead of worrying that they’re not selling 20 million copies of an album, just put out an album of Tibetan nose-flute music because reasons. They’ve accepted that even if people know about it, they won’t necessarily like it. They’ve accepted that they can have 50,000 fans on Facebook but only 29 of them will actually buy the album, and they’ve accepted that just because they’ve run some swanky competition to get 90,000 people to say they’re going to their next concert, only 50 of them will turn up on the day. Because Nobody Cares. They’re all too busy taking duckface selfies and showing their 15,000 Facebook friends a photo of their dinner.
Or maybe – and this is the hard part – they listened carefully, because they do care, but they just didn’t really like what you were doing.
But that’s OK. It’s not about what you like; it’s about what I need to create.