Category: blogging

Blogging in the Time of Facebook

I’m a fan of Facebook, for the most part. It’s one of the main ways I keep in touch with many people, and I know from experience just how bad of a job I did at that back in the days before Facebook came into existence. And I realize the company has a tough nut to crack: I’m friends with 698 people at the moment, and there’s no way I would want to see all the updates from all 698 of those people. (Except *you*, of course. I really care about seeing every update *you* make.)

On the flip side, there are some people that I really do want to see everything from. People whose writing I enjoy, or close friends or family. And Facebook allows you to see some of it, but not all of it. In the end, the control of your newsfeed is up to the algorithms, and that’s where I get most frustrated.

See, I write this daily blog, and I write it so that people can read it. But when you churn out a post a day, Facebook’s algorithms don’t like it. They don’t seem to want to show your stream of posts to everyone. Why would they want to do that when they’d rather use you as an income generator, instead. “We’ll show your post to even more people . . . if you pay us some money.” And that’s really frustrating.

I don’t pay to promote things on Facebook. That seems counterproductive. But as I’ve been blogging and posting to the site over the years, I’ve seen a lifecycle of a blog post on Facebook. There’s a tiny window, typically, where the post has a chance to “prove” itself. In that window, if enough people like it or (better yet) share it, then the algorithms kick in. “Aha!” Facebook says. “This is a post people like to read. If I share it with more people, then more people will like using Facebook, because people like to read things that other people like to read.”

In that case, the post goes on to have a happy little life. More people see it, which cause more people to like it and comment, and the cycle continues.

If, on the other hand, not enough people see or like it, then it quickly sinks into oblivion. Sure, some of that could be because I’ve just written a crummy blog post, but I’ve been doing this long enough that I usually have a good handle on what’s solid and what isn’t, and I know for a fact that some really solid posts have just tanked.

And that’s a problem. Not for me, personally, because it’s not like I count on blog views to earn me income or anything, but because of what it stands for. So many people in the world use Facebook as the prime means of staying connected and even just getting news, that this one company is beginning to have a greater and greater influence over what we think as a culture. Just look at how the Russians were able to manipulate that for their own designs, playing Americans off each other by fanning the flames on both sides of arguments.

I’m not sure what the solution is. For my posts, it would be to have more people just subscribe directly to my blog and cut out Facebook altogether. But I know that’s not going to happen, just as I know Facebook isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. They might get edged out eventually, but it’s going to take some awfully big market forces to do that. Facebook will have to make some major blunders (something it’s done before) at the same time that a real serious competitor comes along that offers some exciting changes. It’s the second part that has yet to really materialize. Sure, teens use other platforms, but for the majority of “grown ups,” Facebook remains the biggie.

Then again, how is this different than how things were before, when ABC, NBC, and CBS ruled the news? The biggest difference is that it was much harder to get lies printed and reported. These days, anyone with a keyboard and an internet connection can make a story that seems reliable *enough*, meaning it’ll convince a significant amount of people that they should believe it. Facebook is trying to police this more, but in the end, they’re not really motivated. After all, their business is eyeballs, and the more eyeballs, the merrier.

Just not for my blog posts, if they don’t cut it in the first hour or so . . .

People Don’t Care about Sources

I’d like to think I have a fairly open blog. I try to look at issues from all sides before I come to a decision, and I’m certainly able to admit when I’m wrong. (Though I typically refrain from posting in absolutes, which makes it much easier to be pigeon holed into one side of an argument or another.)

I’ve had a number of Facebook scuffles over the years. I’ve had posts that are very well read and posts that get ignored. I pay attention to my statistics to see which posts catch people’s interests and which don’t.

I’d like to think most people who read my posts are ready to think about an issue some.

But even with all of that, perhaps *the* thing that surprises me the most is how few people actually click through to the articles I link to in my posts. True, I haven’t done some sort of academic study on this. It’s all anecdotal. But I’m always amazed when I check to see those “clicked links” numbers. Hundreds of people might read an article. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 5 out of those hundreds who actually clicked the links.

My takeaway from this is that people generally want to think how they think. If an argument they hear agrees with what they think, they accept it and move on. If it disagrees, they ignore it. I get baffled how Trump can make the claims he makes and not have the entire country just laugh at him, but then I remember those statistics from my blog.

Often, it seems all you have to do to get someone to believe you is to say something forcefully from a position of authority. And people believe the force and the authority. They don’t question.

I wish more people would. But if even my target audience won’t click them, then I can’t imagine many others who will. And judging from my Facebook posts, this includes people who even click through to read my blog post in the first place. There are often some who will show up, ignore practically everything I’ve written on a subject, and then blithely prattle on about it. The internet equivalent of someone coming up to you in the middle of a discussion with your friends and then blurting out something that was already discussed ten minutes ago.

Please. Pretty please. From the bottom of this librarian’s heart. Click the links to articles that are cited. Evaluate their sources. Figure out if they can be believed or not. You never know what they might actually lead to.

(Then again, maybe you all don’t click the links I post because you trust me *that much*. In which case, I’m flattered. But please click the links anyway.)

That is all.

Public or Private?

So. I’ve got this blog thing that I write every weekday (more or less), and I typically share it on a few social media sites. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and tumblr. Now and then I’ll post something to Reddit if I’m particularly proud of it, or if I feel like it pertains to a specific subreddit. But I don’t do all that much to promote the posts. Sometimes Facebook picks it up in its algorithms, and in that case the posts do quite well. Sometimes only a few people read them. But I like to write them, and so I keep at it.

In other words, the main reason I write this blog is (honestly) that I enjoy doing it. I started it back in 2007 as a way to have a web presence should I ever become published. Now I’m published and I realize a web presence doesn’t really do a whole lot for me, but I keep at it anyway. Go figure.

I make my Facebook posts public by default. I’ve had it set to that setting for years, and I rarely regret it. Why public? Well, for one thing, I’d like my posts to be shared easily, and that’s difficult to do when they’re “friends only.” For another, I would rather not just write to a group of friends who all agree with me. Often I write opinion pieces, and for that I’d like people with differing opinions to read what I’ve written.

And it almost always works fine. But now and then it breaks down, mainly (I believe) because online etiquette is still evolving. I wrote about this a few weeks ago, and the responses were varied enough for me to accept that even if I find something wrong online (responding directly to posts by strangers on Facebook), enough people don’t that it’s something I need to accept. So I can’t just assume etiquette will keep people well behaved.

I suppose if I were dealing with inflammatory remarks on Facebook every day, I’d eventually just throw my hands up and make the posts private. I write for enjoyment, after all. I don’t mind honest critique, but spiteful or mean comments aren’t called for ever. And yet sometimes that’s just what I get, almost always from people I don’t know. Just this past week, I had a thread erupt on Facebook over (of all things) my post defending political correctness. A friend of a friend came in and called me a bigot, hater, and a hypocrite. I saw that Friday afternoon, and it kind of ruined my evening. I had to figure out how to respond, if to respond, and to ask myself if the person had a point.

And then it turned out the person was just making an attempt at a thought experiment. (It’s complicated. Read the thread to make sense of it all, but please don’t resurrect the debate. It’s all turned out well enough, and I’d rather not revisit it.)

In any case, after the mental turmoil from that post (coupled with many mean-spirited remarks from strangers over the last year or two), I seriously debated just making the posts private from now on. And I still might at some point, but for now, I’m keeping them public. Why?

Because the people who get upset the most at my points are people who have read them and disagreed with them. Vehemently. And frankly, those are the people I’d like to read them the most. Not people who are going to smile and nod and high five me for a great post (though who doesn’t love a high five?), but people who disagree with the argument I’m making. I’d love for my words to change some minds now and then, and how can they change minds if the minds can’t have access to them?

And for every one person who reads those posts and gets so incensed they have to write me a nastygram, I have to believe there are a good number of people who read the post and are on the fence about an issue. And if my post causes them to rethink things and end up coming around, then I believe the nastygrams are a price I’m willing to pay.

There’s also the chance that I’m wrong on a topic, and a reader out there who disagrees with me or is better informed can set me straight. It’s not like I’m always right or anything.

So the posts stay public. Though here’s hoping the thought experiments and nastygrams stay few and far between . . .

Happy Monday, all!

Searching for Success

I’ve written this blog pretty much every weekday for about ten years now, give or take. (Actually I just went and checked. My ten year anniversary will be January 17th. Coming right up!) And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in that time, it’s that there’s no way to know ahead of time when a post will be successful or not. I can spend an hour on a post. Pour out my feelings on the page and really put in a ton of effort. The resulting post might be fantastic in my opinion, but the moment I hit “publish”, it’s out of my hands as to whether people read it or not.

Oh, there are some things I can do to try and boost its visibility. I’ve posted some things to Reddit. Reposted things to Facebook later in the day if I feel like a post isn’t getting the traffic it deserves. But the sad truth is that even that isn’t enough to get things read.

Ten years doing this, and I still haven’t gotten it figured out. Yesterday’s quick “Come on, Mitt” post was my most popular post in months, easily. No one reposted it. No one retweeted it. But somehow it managed to find its way to an audience. Other posts end up being more of the “slow and steady wins the race” variety. For example, the one I wrote almost 3 years ago about getting into BYU continues to rack up the views each week. A little here, a little there, but it’s now the 6th most popular post I’ve ever written. It’s the second most popular post people have read this year. The second most popular post people have read this quarter. The second most popular post people have read this month. The third most popular post they’ve read this week.

You get the picture.

I don’t do anything to promote that post now. (Well, until this entry, I guess.) But people find it.

In a way, this is really frustrating. I write my posts so that people will read them. All of them. They’re all important to me (well, most of them, at least.) And if I could figure out a way to have them all get the attention they deserve, I’d do it. But in another way, it’s comforting. Because the same thing happens with everything out there. The books I write, for one thing.

I’ve finished 15 novels now. Two of them are professionally published. 2 are bouncing around editors’ desks, still trying to find a home. 1 is about to go out. But for all of them, once I’ve written them, much of their success is out of my hands. I can write blog posts. Do book signings. School visits. Conferences. But in the end, so much of their success is dependent on things other than me. I can move the needle only so much.

In a way, that’s depressing. But in a larger way, it’s freeing. It’s a big relief to know that if a book doesn’t do well, it’s not all on me.

And that’s my deep thought for today.

Social Media Ettiquette

I post things on Facebook. Quite a few things. And I keep my privacy settings “public” because I’m happy to have strangers see what I write and think. For the most part, it works wonderfully. People can share my posts easily, and I enjoy the variety of views and conversation that follows.

But.

Every now and then, it breaks down. I’ll have people show up to the party who don’t really want to talk or listen. They just want to lecture or say why everyone else is wrong. I’m fine with even that, as long as they generally stick to the topic I was writing about. True, I have to step in now and then to knock some heads together, but fine.

Here’s the thing: the rule I have always followed is that if I don’t know someone (or at the very least I’m not Friends with them on Facebook), then I won’t post on someone’s wall. I’ll happily engage with someone on a public page. No gripes with that. But if I see a friend liked something on someone else’s feed, and it pops up in my feed, I’ve always treated it as off limits for commentary there. What I’ll do instead is post it to my own wall, where I’ll give my commentary.

And I think that’s been my assumption for social media etiquette. You can see what everyone posts, but you’re not supposed to comment on a stranger’s wall. Comments are there for Friends. But is this just something I’ve imagined? Am I expecting too much from the internet?

I would love to hear what other people think. In the meantime, I have a conference to run, so I’ll be very scarce online today and tomorrow.

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