Give Back and Don’t Worry

Photo by JD Hancock on Flickr.

A friend recently expressed admiration for the success I’ve had with this blog. I’ve recieved lots of comments from other great bloggers, interviews with some terrific writers, and traffic that dwarfs most of my previous projects. I think he even used the term “rock star,” which makes me laugh, because I imagine Kip Winger hunched over a laptop at a Dunkin’ Donuts at two in the morning, feverishly composing a screed against the barbarous advent of the Danelectro Honeytone.

All the same, I have had a lot of success with this blog, at least in terms of my own satisfaction. I’ve also had good success with social media. I bring this up because my previous forays into social media were so bland and nondescript, I couldn’t even call them disastrous. My last Twitter account had about 50 followers, and about three of those talked to me. My last blog (which, admittedly, appealed to a tiny market) still gets most of its feeble traffic from wildly irrelevant search results.

There was a time when this stuff bothered me. What was the problem? I was funny on Twitter. I was hilarious, goddamn it. I posted cool stuff (well, at least I thought it was cool, Come on, guys, is this thing on? Hello?) I took unfollows personally. I made half-baked attempts at self-promotion and then instantly got dejected when they didn’t pay off. I agonized over my Google Friend Finder widget with its three friends, feeling like the kid sitting alone at the table after no one came to his birthday party.

Now, before we go any further, let me just say: I am not a social media guru or a cybernetic yogi, nor do I aspire to be. I’m just sharing what’s worked for me.

All those things above? Those things were mistakes. If you really want to know the secret of social media success, I think it comes down to this:

Give back and don’t worry.

Dr. Pete Meyers, who has had more success in this area than I ever will, tried to tell me this once, but I didn’t listen. I was young and arrogant. Or old and arrogant. The point is, I was arrogant. Pete’s advice didn’t truly click with me until I picked up Shama Hyder Kabani’s book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing, for work. The author outlines a few simple principles:

1. Be yourself. People can smell a phony from miles off.
2. Don’t be negative. Don’t slander, don’t complain all the time.
3. Follow a couple new and interesting people every day.
4. Promote others more than yourself.

Within a month of applying these ideas, I’d gained more of a following — and more meaningful connections with people — than I did in a year of blasting Tweets like it was open-mic night at the Improv. I found writers and bloggers I liked and promoted their work. I subscribed to blogs and left comments. Most of all, I made it a point never to ask people for retweets, mentions, followbacks, or subscriptions. And if nobody commented on the blog or replied to me or mentioned me in a #FollowFriday or never put me in their blogroll, I just didn’t worry about it.

This approach brought me more success and goodwill than ten times the amount of crass self-promotion ever would have.

Not only that, but I started to see why it worked. I watched my Twitter feed and spotted the people who were clearly only in it for themselves — the ones who auto-tweeted about their book three times an hour, without personally engaging with anyone. The ones who publicly complained that they lost followers, or didn’t have enough followers, or that no one talked to them, or how so-and-so sucked and was a doody-head. I had no real interest in engaging with these people… why would I? And if I was reacting negatively to these things, why would I expect other people to react positively?

It can be tough sometimes to write a blog post that you think is sheer genius, only to hear the sound of crickets. Or to reach out to people and be ignored or rebuffed. Or to champion someone else’s work and get nothing back. But in my experience, these things rarely happen.

Everyone wants a fan. Everyone wants to feel valued and important. Inspire those feelings in others, and most will want to give back. But most importantly, don’t do it because you’re expecting reciprocity — do it because you want to, and the rest will follow.

Give back and don’t worry.

  • I am wise indeed 🙂 I’m good at giving out sage advice roughly 3 months after I discover it for myself. I really struggled building up my own business, and it’s hard to say how what I did later was radically different from what I did early on. Looking back, I think I just gradually did it with more sincerity, more enthusiasm, and more general effort. I realized that, if you want people to be interested in what you do, you have to be interested in it yourself. In other words: be interesting. Don’t obsess about tactics – just get out there, balls to the wall, and make it happen.

    • Sorry, Pete, I’m too arrogant to take your advice right now. Try back in three months.

      When I started doing this, I definitely approached it like a tactic — now it’s become second nature, which is much more comfortable and genuine.

  • Angie Richmond

    You have just summed it up in one nice, little post! AWESOME! It really does make a difference. You get what you give and until you realize that you are doomed. DOOMED I SAY!

    Who wants thousands of followers who never read your posts? Who only follow you because you auto follow back! UGH!

    You are so wise, my friend and I am so glad to have met you!

    • Yeah, I see people who follow 10,000 others and I can’t imagine that they interact with ANY of them meaningfully. Even at 500, I’m reaching the limit of what I can do, even splitting people into groups.

      I’m glad to have met you too, Angie, it’s been a blast!

  • Anonymous

    I struggled too…then I gave up and got a day job. Woe is me.

    Hard to put a finger on the reason(s) I started reading your blog, especially in the midst of a drastic cull in RSS subscriptions. But the word “genuine” does come to mind. The humor doesn’t hurt either.

    Whatever you’re eating for breakfast, don’t change it.

    • Thanks, Mike. I’m very gratified to have made the cut, and I’ll try to “keep it real,” as the kids say, or at least were probably saying at some point.

  • This is a fantastic post. I mean it.

    People tend to forget that social media isn’t about you–it’s about everyone else. It’s about relationships and supporting each other and sharing fantastic content you come across on the web. Sure the Twitter followers and blog subscribers and Facebook likes are a really nice bonus, but if that’s what you’re focusing on, then you’re missing the point entirely.

    Not worrying about the numbers not only helps you to focus on what’s important, but it also makes the whole social media thing about a gazillion point two times less stressful and more enjoyable (and yes, that’s definitely a scientifically proven number).

    • Thanks for the great comment, Ava. You’re totally right about the numbers. When I first set out on this project, I was sweating the numbers a lot, and constantly comparing myself to people who had been blogging and networking for YEARS. It was sadmaking and very unproductive. As soon as I stopped worrying about it, things got much easier — and that includes building an audience.

      • Absolutely. After I stopped worrying about silly things like Klout scores and whether or not someone unfollowed me or anything silly like that, I found that I was able to enjoy everything else tenfold. I suppose some things you just have to learn along the way. 🙂

  • Brilliant post! Social media isn’t about selling to a crowd of strangers, it’s wandering into that crowd and making real connections, real friends.

    I’m sharing this post like there’s no tomorrow – everybody needs to get this message 🙂

    • Thanks, Dasia, you rule! It’s been fun to see this post resonating with people and taking off. 😀

  • Spot-on. Love this post. This should be mandatory reading for every writer on Twitter.

  • Thank you. A lot of people are missing out on the importance of sincerely being out there for others. Everything else will follow.

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