Before you scroll down to comment on this post (and you should definitely comment on this post, by the way), make sure you actually read it first. You can’t predict what I’m going to say or what’s going to happen. And it’ll be a fun, cool exercise to see if you can actually read it. Like truly read it. Word for word. Let it simmer and stew. Think about it. Then make a decision about what to do with it – whether that’s commenting, sharing, or discarding.
Let’s talk about you
For most of this article. Let’s focus on what you’re doing, what you’re not doing, and what you’re trying to do. If you’re like me, you’re an internet creator with a small following. You’re also probably frustrated. Possibly a bit obsessed with numbers, even though you know you shouldn’t be.
Maybe you’ve figured out exactly what you want to accomplish and the message you want to spread. Or maybe you’re only aware that you want to spread a message on a really large scale. That’s fine. If your goal is to change the world, awesome. And if your goal is to have a million YouTube subscribers, that’s equally awesome. It’s your goal. I won’t judge it.
But let’s come back to your frustration. Maybe you’ve been at it for more than a year – or even several years – but you can’t seem to reach critical mass and gain traction. You saw progress for a while – maybe several months. The excitement built. Even though it wasn’t anywhere near where you wanted it to be, you managed to talk yourself into being thankful for the audience you did have. Anything less would be inappropriate.
But then that went away. That small amount of success that barely kept you hanging on went away. You hit your 1,000 subscribers, you used that to fuel your creative fire for another couple months, and then you realized that you’re getting fewer views on all your videos (or blog posts) than you were before you hit that milestone.
And even though you find yourself encouraging all your creator friends to stick it out, you don’t know how much longer you can hang in there.
You’re not alone
I’ve had this conversation with several of my fellow creators. We’re all in the same boat, I think. And to try and put some wind back in my sails, I started looking up advice on how to get 100,000 page views per month on my blog.
That’s a good goal – sort of the milestone that marks your entry into the world of professional blogging. It’s not enough for a full-time income, depending on how you’re monetizing your blog, the opportunities you’re pursuing, and your audience and niche, but it’s a start. It’s that moment when a blogger feels he or she has Made It.
But a lot of these articles just provided generic, fluffy advice with no actionable, concrete support. If you’ve been following me for a while, you know that, to be frank, that pisses me off.
“Just be yourself.”
“Make good content.”
“Use pictures in your posts.”
No. That’s not helpful. Which element of myself should I focus on showing to the internet to get more attention for myself? What makes good content? How do I use pictures in such a way that they improve the post and don’t look like an afterthought I threw in during editing because it’s what I’m supposed to do?
Then there’s my favorite: “Just keep going.”
I hate that advice. Like it or not, fact is not all of us should keep going. Some of us are not meant for this line of work. Hell, a lot of us are not meant for this line of work. Could everybody conceivably make it to some level of success if they just keep pushing forward? Absolutely.
But for some of us, that will take another year. For others, it will take another five years, or maybe a decade. But I refuse to take this sort of shitty false-positive bullshit from people who refuse to acknowledge that for a lot of creators who are frankly terrible, success by persistence could take decades longer than their expected lifespans.
And what really pisses me off is how many of these bloggers followed up their fluff with a story of going viral.
The False Hope of Going Viral
“I hit publish, I shared on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and Twitter, and then I went to sleep.”
Why the hell did you hit publish at night? There’s no quicker way for me to kill a post than to publish and share after 4 PM.
“And then I woke up the next morning, checked my AdSense account, and had made $40. I had 33,000 page views from 30,000 unique visitors. My post had been shared 100 times.”*
Hold the phone.
See, a few things bother me about this.
First, 30,000 unique visitors would be great. But 33,000 page views from 30,000 unique visitors means 9/10 of your visitors bounced after reading that article and wanted nothing else to do with you. So why the hell are pro bloggers selling entire $500 courses about reducing your bounce rate? It’s obviously not that important.
Further, I want to know why people shared your post 100 times. I want to know exactly what it is that you think you did correctly with your post that really struck a nerve and got people to click the god damn retweet button. That’s gold.
But I’m guessing you don’t talk about that because you’re either selfish or clueless. Because 90% of people who make shit on the internet have no fucking clue what they’re doing.
What really bothers me about all this, though, is that it just furthers the myth that all you have to do is keep making shit until someone finds it in their heart of hearts to push you to the finish line.
It’s why most of my creator friends drive me up the fucking wall.
* Numbers are fudged a bit to preserve anonymity. You can find a hundred stories like this if you Google “how do I get to 100,000 page views per month.”
Waiting for Superman: Also known as being a lazy motherfucker
(PAY ATTENTION TO THIS PART.)
Creators have a responsibility to learn what works and what doesn’t. We are supposed to spend hours a day educating ourselves on the internal workings of the medium we’ve chosen to pursue.
Why do cello players spend hours upon hours practicing day after day for decades on end before they attempt to join an orchestra? I mean, if you get enough people to hear you play, that means you’ve achieved expert level, right?
Cello players should just keep playing to their friends over and over and hope that eventually one of their friends will record it and play it for a friend and then you’ll go viral and be the best, most beloved cellist of all existence a la Zoe Keating, right?
Of course not.
You practice. Creators practice.
But if you’re a blogger, your medium isn’t just writing. If you’re a YouTuber, video is not your only medium.
The internet. That is your medium. You don’t just have to be a good writer. And you certainly don’t just have to be good at making videos.
(If video quality were really a barrier to entry, you wouldn’t spend so much fucking time ranting about how much better your shit is than bigger YouTubers.)
No. You have to be good at the internet.
And that takes time, education, work, and practice.
If I had a post go viral, and I couldn’t tell you what I did correctly in it, I would be embarrassed.
But creators aren’t taking their time to learn about this. They’re just sending their videos to group chats on Twitter and posting them in Google+ groups catering to fellow small YouTubers. You’re broadcasting your message to a thousand other people who are trying to compete for the attention of your identical audience – an audience that’s coincidentally competing for your attention.
Stop. Take an interest in your own success.
Don’t wait for one of your friends to randomly decide, “You know what? Your video is so much better than the other 20 hours of footage I’ve been begged to watch today. I think I’ll stop trying to promote my own shit and just start pushing you and your work forward. That sounds like a good plan.”
No. Don’t expect anybody to help you. Make this shit happen for yourself. And if you’re not willing to put in the work to find an audience that actually wants to see your shit, you don’t deserve to get even one retweet.
The Case for Social Shares (even when it’s stupid and non-productive)
All this being said, not everybody learns the hard way.
Remember how you felt at the beginning of this post? Desperate, hungry, frustrated, and probably a bit peeved?
We’re all in that boat. Every single one of us feels the same way.
If you genuinely care about your friends and your fellow creators (and you’re a piece of shit if you don’t, by the way), you should still share their posts. Don’t just take an interest in your own success. Take an interest in the success of others. You should watch their videos, comment on their blog posts, and retweet them when they say something witty.
While you’re waiting for your Superman, try your best to be Superman for your friends.
This is a community that doesn’t get a lot of support. We struggle, day in and day out, to keep going. Your choice to hit the share button could be what keeps them pushing forward today.
Remember that all ships rise with the tide. When someone does something cool, share it. Tell other people about it. If they go fucking viral, that’s great news. Don’t resent them for it. Be glad you could help.
And maybe they’ll even scratch your back, too.
Either way, hit the god damn share button today.
Also make sure you read part two of this post, appropriately titled “How to Build an Audience for Your Blog (without the bullshit).”