Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Is social media "worth it" if your audience is small?

"Altogether, we compose some 3.6 trillion words every day on email and social media — the equivalent of 36 million books."

You knew you were writing a lot, didn't you? That's more books than are in the Library of Congress, thank you. And in Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better, Clive Thompson says that's a good thing. The bigger the network and the more content available, the smarter our thinking will be, he says...and the more influence our blogs will have. In part that stems from what he calls the "audience effect." Just having to answer to an audience makes your thinking smarter and your writing better, and thus, more influential. Here's more from an excerpt in Why even the worst bloggers are making us smarter:
Interestingly, the audience effect doesn’t necessarily require a big audience. This seems particularly true online. Many people have told me that they feel the dynamic kick in with even a tiny handful of viewers. I'd argue that the cognitive shift in going from an audience of zero (talking to yourself) to an audience of 10 (a few friends or random strangers checking out your online post) is so big that it’s actually huger than going from 10 people to a million. This is something that traditional thinkers of the pre-Internet age—particularly print and broadcast journalists — have trouble grasping. For them, an audience doesn’t mean anything unless it’s massive. If you’re writing specifically to make money, you need to draw a large crowd. This is part of the thinking that causes traditional media executives to scoff at the spectacle of the “guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing what he thinks.” But for the rest of the people in the world, who probably never did much nonwork writing in the first place—and who almost never did it for an audience—even a handful of readers can have a vertiginous, catalytic impact.
Thompson writes about how this "thinking in public" aspect of blogging turns ideas over to the networks, in which connections build upon them and carry them forward. It's big-picture thinking about blogging and influence and a refreshing read that might give you more perspective about your blogging. I know that the audience effect is one of the strongest payoffs for me in persisting with a blog, and it's nice to have that confirmed by a big thinker.

Musician Jonathan Mann did some big thinking about this same issue in a different way. He's the "Song a Day" man who's been writing, performing and posting a song a day on the Internet since January 2009, and we've worked together at TEDMED where he's done daring feats like sum up the previous day's sessions in song at the top of the morning. In this thoughtful essay, Every Day I Write the Song, he wonders about the same thing you wonder: Is it worth it to throw more content into the belly of the Internet beast, if no one is going to see it? And he concludes it's worth it, even if just one person sees it. He writes:
When I make something that comes from my heart — even if it’s silly, topical, or off the cuff — there’s always a chance that it helps make a great connection that I could never imagine. I never know when those links will happen, but they have and I know they will continue. No matter how I feel about a song on a particular day, someone will like it. There is someone, somewhere out in the vast reaches of cyberspace that will get something from it. Even when I’ve written a song that I’m sure is horrible, I hear from someone whose day it’s brightened. I have an established audience now, but this was true even when I first began, and I could count on the fingers of one or both hands who would see my work. And over seven years of posting work my songs, it happens like clockwork, again and again. This is the true nature of the Internet.
Right on, brother. Here's a reel that captures how he got the live crowd going at TEDMED. I love Jonathan's essay and the spirit in which he makes the Internet better for all of us:


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