Waiting for Superman: Why Internet Creators Fail

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.

Waiting for Superman: Why Internet Creators Fail / TheNoker.com / Inside the world of what it takes to be a successful blogger or YouTuber, grow an audience on social media, be a better writer, get internet famous, and act like a decent person with your internet friends.

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.”

Why small YouTubers and bloggers will fail, even when they follow the generic advice like using pictures in their posts, networking with others, and writing 'good' content.

k, here’s a cute puppy. Am I famous yet?

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.

But.

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.

Write articles about them, like when I wrote 20 Small YouTubers to Watch in 2016 for Buzzfeed or turned some of my friends into GIFs (that was a first time for a lot of them).

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.

(And subscribe.)

Also make sure you read part two of this post, appropriately titled “How to Build an Audience for Your Blog (without the bullshit).”

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17 comments on “Waiting for Superman: Why Internet Creators Fail”

  1. Patrick Cleary Reply

    Indeed! One of the biggest lies is that we’re in competition for attention. The fact is that there are people who will watch a lot of YouTube videos, and if one of us does well, the rest of us have a bigger shot at it, as well.

    Also, most “viral” content is content that’s been paid to go viral. Either a company is looking for a piece of content to share that fits whatever message they’re looking to make and buys the rights to something you made (Nothing 2 Do Crew had a “Slip & Slide Kickball” video that was bought by another company and got about a million shares, but their channel itself is pretty small potatoes, for instance), or you’ll get the attention of someone in a company who is directly affected by what you post (Chewbacca Mom and Kohl’s, for instance). Most internet these days is just advertising.

    So goals have to be really specific. Do you want to be a brand ambassador? Then make your content be close to a brand. Do you want to make weirdo content that might get the attention of someone who can push your message? Then make it friendly to that.

    Just want to make what you want to make? Then be okay with YouTube/blogging/whatever be something you have to support with other income.

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Yep, all of this. Especially as far as the internet being mostly advertising. We’re trying to make it in a world that’s built on illusion, appearance, and superficial make-believe funded by years of practice and billions of dollars. But we’re expecting to somehow make it overnight when the only effort we’re putting in is a couple tweets and dropping a link in a Facebook group? Please.

  2. Chloe Reply

    I can relate to so much of this. Sometimes I wonder if it would be easier to simply have a business that sells actual products rather then just trying to promote my words. I try and understand how people can grow their social media so quickly and most of the time I’m met with “use the right hashtags, have high quality images and be consistent”

    I can hash tag till the cows come home but it doesn’t mean that my content will be noticed.
    I often wonder if the reason my numbers aren’t shooting through the roof is because I’m actually a crappy writer. If that is the case, then I would hope someone somewhere along the line would just tell me. Otherwise I know I’m doing something wrong, I’m still yet to find the Golden Ticket.

    I know people try and say “oh don’t focus on the money side, just be passionate and blah blah blah” but let’s be real. We would all love to earn a full time wage doing a craft that we love.

    • Michael Noker Reply

      I was in that mind space back in late September. I was celebrating my one-year anniversary on YouTube and I think that video got all of like 50 views – double what I was getting on other videos at the time. That was a real slap in the face. One year in and very little to show. And I felt like my content must be incredibly dull and boring. 600 friends on Facebook, 300 subscribers, and only 20 views? Yeah. It must suck.

      What’s been working for me over the last month and a half or so is putting myself into the mindset of finding an audience for every. single. thing. I. do. I’m no longer counting on my Facebook friends or fans, YouTube subscribers, blog subscribers, Twitter followers, etc. to pay attention to what I make. Some of them do, and that’s AWESOME! But most don’t. And that’s okay too.

      Basically, I’m taking the responsibility for building my audience. If I want the eyeballs, I have to fill the stadium every single day for the next few years. That’s what we signed up for when we became bloggers (and that took me more than one year to realize).

  3. Chloe Reply

    You have put it perfectly- We need to feel the stadium every day. I had never considered doing this. I’m always relying on friends, family and strangers who have followed my page to just share my content in hopes it gets more views. I have never considered that I should seek out the audience and put it in front of them so that each post is shown to the people who would benefit from it most.
    THANKYOU.
    You have just changed the way I want to blog/market.
    Also- I’ve seen your blog shared a few places so I know this blog has resonated with a few people. Thank-you for sharing your wisdom and advice.

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Your comments inspired part of the follow up post to this! I know what you’re going through, so trust me, you’re not alone. Also, I’m glad that helped something click into place for you! I feel like blogging success is just a series of epiphanies that kind of make you say “ooooh” and then you start seeing yourself doing better and better. Or something.

  4. Pingback: How to Build an Audience for Your Blog (without the bullshit) - The Noker

  5. Susan Reply

    I LOVE this. I’m so happy to read someone else say what I’ve been thinking about those ridiculous, braggy, “success” posts that give nothing but fluff as their so-called advice. Michael, I really value your perspective on this. You don’t pretend to have the magic beans that are going to create success for everyone who reads this, but the advice you offer is real. Plus, you made me laugh. Well done, sir.

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Thank you very much for the lovely comment, Susan! I did follow-up this post with a bit of specific strategy as to what’s been working for me (and the mental shift that made that happen), if you’ve got time for another 2,400 words. (God I can talk, can’t I?)

  6. WORTHLESS MAN⛄🔥 (@DrewsClues) Reply

    lol social sharing what is that ? why are you so needy? why would i want other people to see something I liked? how do things spread? what’s in it for me? i have so many friends, i’d hate for them to know i respect someone’s work other than my own or a famous person’s.

  7. zozieposie Reply

    Very interesting post! – I think it’s crowded out there and being yourself is usually the best thing.
    I went into blogging as a hobby to spread more positivity into the world. I have been surprised as a new blogger what a big thing promote is but I do like when people enjoy what I have done of course!
    I an quite driven when I am doing something so quickly got into blogging circles. ..but the pressure of some and the time has made me rethink just how hard I chose to promote.
    I look out and seek out ways to put my content in front of the right persons…but I have other things to do as well and if I want to continue it then it has to find its niche in my life as it can’t ever be the ‘be all’.
    I have so much enthusiasm for all I want to chat about – it just all takes time so I need to ensure it keeps being primarily FUN.
    I have responsibility/tasks and so many things I enjoy. ..there’s 24 hours in a day and you have to sleep!

    http://www.whimsyandcosy.wordpress.com

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Hahaha all I can think is, “Sleep? What on earth is that!?” I love that you chose to go into blogging to spread more positivity into the world – that’s what prompted me to start my YouTube channel, too. I wanted to show the world beautiful, inspiring things. That’s kind of why I still do it, even though my content has changed dramatically over the course of creating it.

  8. Momma (@mommaknowsitall) Reply

    Michael you hit the nail on the head with this post! I quite literally felt like you were speaking right to me personally several times. I’ve once experienced that euphoria of short lived success. Now I find myself often questioning my blogging skills and frankly wondering who my target audience even is these days. To the point I feel like (no, I know) I share more content from others than I do of my own.

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Oooh I definitely know the feeling of wondering who your target audience is. One of the things that has helped me get around that, believe it or not, was to refuse to call myself a blogger. I started to identify myself as a comedian and then took each piece of content and asked myself, “Who will this joke land with?” I’m not 100% sure how to phrase this, but try to break your content away from your identity and turn each piece into its own, standalone concept. Then ask yourself who that concept will resonate with. That’s gotten me significantly further than previous efforts did.

  9. susansontra Reply

    Love this article. I spend so much time trying to figure out the why’s and when’s and little pieces of information that work and don’t work, that I was under the impression I was doing something wrong all the time. I do want to know Why a post works and why one doesn’t and how to be better at what I do, and I keep hearing about these “instant” successes and it doesn’t make sense. The “How” of what they did doesn’t add up either and so much of the time, if you want to nitty gritty details, they want to charge you to take a class that tells you how to do it.
    I write about creativity and yet on Pinterest Boards and on Twitter, I am constantly coming against those trying to sell blogging better tips and services to other bloggers. The same stuff just keeps getting recirculated and nothing new is coming through. It’s frustrating. When I find someone I like, that really says something that clicks, I share or comment. Thank you for sharing such a fantastic post. It’s appreciated.

    • Michael Noker Reply

      Thank you for the very kind comment – and for sharing on Twitter! I think part of the reason why so much of it gets recirculated and regurgitated is that it sells and it’s super easy to make. Like, most of us start off our networking efforts in blogging groups, so that naturally becomes our audience. So then we write some fluffy advice and all our friends are seeking that sort of advice, so it gets clicks. And nobody has the heart to be like, “Wow, I could have read this on literally 50,000 other blogs. Thanks so much for wasting five more minutes of my life,” so it gets support, etc. And then since that’s a lot easier to promote and does better than the other lifestyle (or whatever) stuff people blog about nowadays, they just switch over and boom. Another blogger strikes it big.

      That said, I think there’s merit in some blogging advice courses. For example, I don’t understand Pinterest, like at all, so that could be worth paying for. But at the same time, my content isn’t exactly Pinterest-friendly. It’s not pretty and crafty and cute. It’s just… aggressive. So I may not be missing out on a lot of opportunity there, haha.

      Hopefully I’ll get to see you around some more!

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