Why Growing an Audience is Hard

Real, talk? This post is mostly because I see people on Twitter humblebragging about their subscriber numbers. I’m happy for them, but I sometimes feel it’s not a level playing field to grow. Here’s why I think it’s tough for some of us.

Lately, it feels that growing on social media is a game. If you just want to write real things, things that aren’t laden with phrases like “5 simple hacks to..” and don’t end with a free download and call to action.. it can be hard to get traction.

It’s not our attention spans

As a product designer (albeit one on hiatus) I like to examine why that is. I don’t believe that our attention span is shorter as people claim.

This pandemic has shown that people go down research rabbit holes when we want to, whether it’s conspiracy theories or ways to make working from home more comfortable.

We also enjoy and even brag about all the things we are learning, be it a second language, learning to bullet journal, or playing ukulele. That takes attention and discipline.

Even binging on Netflix or a podcast is still attention.

So, what gives?

1. Audience intent.

Just like at physical locations, people come to social apps with slightly different intentions and norms for each platform.

What a person considers expensive in Costco is cheap when shopping at a handmade pottery store. What’s considered too loud in a library is too quiet in a club.

And in many cases, the intent for most social media apps isn’t to think.

It’s to be entertained: Distracted. Inspired. Motivated.

I try to make info bite-sized for insta, but I feel we’re losing a lot of nuances and essentializing too much.
Maybe insta is the wrong platform for me.

2. We’re seeking our next dopamine fix.

Have you ever noticed that you open social media to calm down when you know it won’t do that? To take a break even when you find yourself upset or drained at something you read?

Dopamine is the reward and addiction neurotransmitter. Every app on your phone is designed to stimulate dopamine through notifications, likes, hearts, streaks, and levelling up.

Social media addiction doesn’t look like “addiction”. It looks like the above: doing something despite knowing you’ll regret it. Or not even knowing why you’re doing it.

Even worthy goals like knocking off to-do items utilise these features to keep audiences hooked on the “value” they offer.

We’ve been habituated to seek these short-term dopamine “hits” instead of perusing less immediately rewarding things. Like reading for leisure.

Reader Cynicism.

A downside of having it so easy for anyone to set up a website and social media presence is that pretty much everyone has. And not all are trustworthy.

When prominent figures are shown to be lying about the lifestyle or diet they are selling through their blog, or manufacturing drama for views, or actually wholesale fictitious characters– it’s hard to know who is real, who’s out to disinform and who is just waiting to sell something once their brand is built.

I feel this too. I am always half afraid anyone I start following will start dropping sentences like “the great awakening” once my guard is down.

Our definition of authority.

Conflicting with the above (because humans are multi faceted), we have a very weird idea of what gives someone “authority”.
We tie it to material success. Or some other signs of being “high value”.

It’s almost a cliché in consulting world that creating ANY product (good or bad) is how people see you as an authority in the genre.

Essentially, they tell you to write a ebook or make a course so people read your blog.

It also helps to be photogenic and have an “aspirational” life.

That fake heiress story revealed that people are more likely to pay attention and invest in you when they think you’re already rich.

And then we wonder why everything online is so fake and always promoting stuff.

Again, I kinda do this too. And I’m trying to filter my online bubble into something less glossy and more real.

Distraction built-in

We just don’t have distraction-free browsing experiences anymore. Everything on our screen is fighting got our attention.

I open insta and see a post I think is interesting only to have the page reload and have it disappear.Now I’m scrolling through the timeline and seeing all the ads they chose for me in order to find that post.

Most blogs are hard to read unless you have reading mode switched on. Between ads, email popups, and the occasional auto play video floating over some part of the post, it’s impossible to just focus on the text.

And no one even reads all of a tweet on Twitter. Twitter is designed and optimised to get people reacting, over reading and understanding. Making it the hellsite it currently is.

In this landscape, I can see the value of a simple newsletter. It explains why substack is doing so well lately.

(ps, for anyone who would prefer that, mine is a simple posts-to-your-inbox format. And you can reply privately.)

I don’t know. I like my blog because it’s space I own.

I think it’s normal to want to be heard and to make connection around the things that mean the most to us. That’s not vanity.

Maybe I should make a tumblr (where Long form is still going strong) and focus less on insta.

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