What Matters More: Numbers or Relationships?

Relationships matter more than the numbers

By Angela Noel

May 18, 2017

Almost a year ago now, I sat agonizing over my first blog post. I’d convinced two or three brave souls to let me profile them. Each had placed tremendous trust in me, but I worried. Would the words I put on the page both honor my subjects and connect with readers?

As a few people read that first post, then a few more, I felt the rush. My heart pounded in anticipation every time I checked the stats. Ten people. Then twenty. A hundred. Matt French, the subject of my first post, liked it. His friends and family liked it. That’s what mattered most, right?

But the more I read other blogs, and the more research I did to understand what “success” for a new blog should look like, the ickier I felt. A few months in, after I’d faithfully posted each week, I remember reading a piece from another blogger. She lamented she had only a “small” following–10,000 views a month. I felt shame. If she was disappointed with 10,000 what did it mean that 1/10th of that number visited mine? Clearly, something was wrong.

Work vs Fun

To find out how to improve my stats I spent hours reading about how successful bloggers crafted posts and promoted them. To boost my subscription sign-ups I did pop-up gymnastics and experimented with different plug-ins, each promising to increase my numbers. I worked late into the night, writing and re-writing blog posts. I enjoyed the writing. I enjoyed the people. But anxiety ate at me.

Each article I write celebrating an inspiring person ends with a call to action, both for myself, and for every reader who finds my blog: Be Awesome in Real Life. But, according to my family, during these first few months I was more irritable than awesome (by far).

To make matters worse, over lunch one day, a writer friend told me he knew a successful blogger who committed to spending no more than an hour on any article. I must be doing it wrong, I thought.

Success seemed out of reach. More importantly, I had to ask myself: Was the effort to make this blog successful making it less fun?

Yikes. Something had to change. One day, on the advice of a good friend, I listened to a Magic Lessons podcast. The six-word key to my conundrum waited within.

Just What I Needed to Hear
Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert
Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert

Glennon Doyle Melton, author and activist, spoke at length about her blogging and writing efforts to Elizabeth Gilbert in the podcast Magic Lessons Ep. 209: “Show Up Before You’re Ready.” I turned up the volume when the conversation turned to Glennon’s frustration with earnest bloggers asking her for advice on how to grow a million-viewer audience like her’s. With grace and wisdom, she offered up an alternative to focusing on growing an audience. Instead, she advises,”Serve the people who show up.” Serve them to the best of your ability. “It’s such an honor,” she says. When I listened to her words, my fingers tingled. The anxiety in my chest eased. I knew she was right.

I started the blog to do two things I love: write and celebrate awesome people and ideas. I got to do that every week! I’d failed to see the success I already had. Bogged down by numbers, I’d forgot to listen to my heart. But I’m not alone.

Evidently, losing sight of why we create is a common problem. Creative people,  Glennon says, don’t quit because they don’t like making things, they quit because they can’t handle defending what they’ve created. And that includes defending it to ourselves. If no one likes it, I used to ask myself, why am I doing it at all? But Glennon has the answer for that too, “There’s the during, and there is no after.” Meaning, creation IS the thing. Babysitting it or “following it around” to see how people react to it kills the spirit. Whether I have two followers or a million, “give them the light,” Glennon advises. Lucky for me, I follow at least two bloggers who’ve already figured this out.

Avoiding the “Blogging Bubble”
Suzie Speaks
Suzie’s a lifestyle blogger based in the UK, but with fans from all over the world.

Suzie Speaks has blogged for the past four years, with impressive stats to show for her efforts. But like Glennon, she didn’t set out to build a successful blog. She set out to tell her truth. And as she did that, she found ways to connect with others. She created a community through engaging with people, supporting their efforts, and being a constant learner. She shares what she learns and sets healthy boundaries for herself. She gives joyfully, without worrying about what she’ll receive in return. A thriving Facebook community, Big Up Your Blog, a popular Twitter hashtag, #Sundayblogshare, and nominations from other bloggers for numerous awards, show her success. Yet even Suzie isn’t immune to losing sight of why she blogs.

Recently, she confessed to falling into what she calls a “the blogging bubble-the point where bloggers focus solely on their own little space of the Internet and forget about the potentially millions of similar spaces out there, just waiting to be explored.” Taking her community for granted was never her intention, but it’s easy to do. “A community,” she says “is not about the stats . . . it’s about building and maintaining connections with others, and avoiding the blogging bubble.”Suzie’s blogger magic comes not from never losing focus, but from realizing when she’s gotten off track, then getting right back on. In that, she has much in common with another favorite blogger of mine: self-avowed wild child, Susie Lindau.

Finding Passion
Susie Lindau's Wild Ride
Susie Lindau’s Wild Ride

Susie, whom I featured as a Blog to Love in December, posted an An Open Letter to New WordPress Bloggers. In it, she asks new bloggers to evaluate their motivations and what equals success. She says:

Why do I want to be a blogger? To become famous and spew? To build an author’s platform? To sell books?  To make money? Those are all end-games. Blogging for results will get you nowhere.

Instead, focus on the path of writing what you are passionate about and you will see results. It’s all about practice and community building.

Follow blogs without the expectation of a followback.

 

Susie’s words carry weight because her followers feel her authentic self shining through. For example, I’ve never met Susie in person, yet when she shared the news about the sudden death of her brother, tears welled up in my eyes. Her humanity and mine are connected. As Glennon points out, “The deeper you go into yourself, the more everybody else can see themselves in you.” That’s exactly what Susie has achieved with her followers. She shows us a different side of ourselves by allowing us a clean, clear, honest window into her own experiences. This is the writer’s duty and gift: To show the reader to him or herself. Susie continues to do just that with every post–living her adventure and sharing it with others.

The Stats that Matter to Me

Success is liking yourself and liking what you do.Therefore, with these examples of true success before me, I ponder the numbers that matter most. In particular, I’m thinking about these stats:

  • Twelve people allowed me to poke into their lives and feature his or her particular brand of awesome in a post.
  • Two beautiful writers penned guest posts.
  • Five readers of the blog wrote Love Letters to someone in their lives they admire.
  • Six people I didn’t know had been reading the blog stopped me in a hallway or at a party to tell me how much they loved reading a post or two, or ten.
  • I’ve heard from many mothers, fathers, siblings, or cousins of post subjects. They already knew how amazing their loved one was, but they’re so happy I can see it, too.
  • I’ve found bloggers from all over the world to follow–who’s adventures and insights have shaped what I think, say, and write.

Today, whenever I ask myself what blogging success means to me, it’s not numbers and stats. Most days, I gauge success by the richness of my experience, the wonder and curiosity I feel, and the opportunity I have to keep creating every day.

Thank you, all of you, for helping me be awesome in real life.

 

Your turn: How do you define your own creative success? Have you ever gotten caught up in the wrong measurement based on your goals?

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Author: Angela Noel

Seeker and promoter of awesome people and ideas.

30 thoughts on “What Matters More: Numbers or Relationships?”

  1. Thanks so much for the sweet mention!
    I do spend waaaaay too much time on certain blog posts. Ironically, they usually don’t get as many views.
    Do what you love and your passion will serve you. Life is too short to spend it in frustration. That’s how I roll. I started in 2011 and a few of my posts blew up back then. Now the competition is INSANE! Everyone is on some kind of social media. It’s hard to compete, so I don’t.
    I will definitely check out Gilbert’s interview.

    1. I love that, “Do what you love and your passion will serve you.” I’m thinking a lot on abundance versus scarcity. Collaboration versus competition. Sure, sometimes we need to compete like in dance-offs–but more often it’s about making room for everyone, because every voice matters. Thank you for all your thoughts!

  2. I really do love reading your blogs, Angela. This is another great one and I love your honesty. I think it’s only too easy to value one’s blog posts by the amount of views etc. I try desperately not to get caught up in that (and sometimes fail). I blog mainly because I love writing and I’m not really in it for any kind of end game. How do I define my success? Mainly by any meaningful comment I receive about a post. I could get a million views (I haven’t ha), but it’s the feeling that someone has connected with my words that is the absolutely best thing about blogging. So, just one comment like that is worth so much more than numbers. That’s wonderful that you’ve had people stop you in public. You’re famous ha!

    1. I am so glad you enjoy reading it! That means the world to me. I love your blog, too. My heart is full when I think of all the great people I’ve met–who live a world away–but are somehow still close by. 🙂

  3. I wholeheartedly agree with this post, but it can be hard sometimes not to compare with other people! I love your blog and the important thing is it’s your opinions, your posts, all from the heart

    1. Thank you, Noelle! Hayley mentioned she feels successful whenever someone makes a thoughtful comment on a post–she’s so right. I read your comment and instantly felt encouraged that you’d connected with the ideas. Success! 🙂

  4. I’m with you on many of these points Angela, you have said it very well! I get confused from your me to time, feel jaded, wonder what I’m trying to achieve but it comes back to enjoying the relationships that are created far more than anything else. Well done on your honesty. I enjoyed your post immensely.

    1. Hi, Deb! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Thank you for reading! It’s funny to me how “trying to get it just right” gets in the way of the joy of doing. When I focus on how much I love the “doing” and how great it is to connect with other people also enjoying the ride, I focus so much less about the other stuff. I’ll still always fret a little-but my hope for myself is that whenever that worry arrives, I’m able to chase it away! Thanks again for your thoughts! Means a lot to me.

  5. You’re right. It’s not the numbers (but that does help with the ego factor) , its the depth of the message and its impact on relationships. You’ve touched many minds and hearts, in ways you will never know. Positive impact on a few is better than shallowness to many. Keep it going. Your passion for writing has been lifelong. It’s a significant part of who you are. You have a passion to bring a joy for life to others. I’m so very proud of you. Mom

  6. What a fantastic post! It’s far too easy to forget why we started blogging in the first place, whether that was to share experiences, travel news, foodie advice, or establish a regular writing routine. The stats can take over if we let them! I love your dedication and passion and thoroughly enjoy your posts x

    1. Thank you, Shelley! It means a lot to me that you enjoy the posts. You have such a wonderful, thoughtful blog as well-it’s a joy to know so many inspiring people!

  7. What a great post! I think it is all about your enjoyment to be honest. Don’t fixate on the numbers, and concentrate on the conversation!

  8. Bravo Angela! I love the honesty of this post. Serve the readers who show up. Great advice. We so often get stuck in the “please like me” mode when instead we need to be in the “how can I serve” frame of mind.

    1. When I first listened to the podcast I was working out. I literally stopped what I was doing and wrote it down. It was like that moment when the clouds part and the sun shines through. Thanks for reading, and adding your thoughts! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Ruth! I’m sure I’ll get sidetracked again, but my hope is I figure it out sooner and get back on track faster! Too much good stuff out there to worry about things that aren’t as important. 🙂

  9. What a great post! I’m learning to let go of the stats and just write from the heart rather than trying to second-guess what people will like. It’s so true about serving the followers you have 🙂

  10. Angela, I follow quite a few bloggers, and spend a lot of time writing comments. (One of my favorite parts about blogging is connecting with fellow bloggers in their world). Nearly all of my comments are complimentary. I’m getting ready to say some more complimentary stuff, but I hope you recognize the gratitude I’m trying to express.

    This was one of the most moving posts I’ve ever read.

    Pretty sure that most of us recognize that writers write to be read, and a common refrain to those struggling with feelings of “not good enough” is: I’m writing for my ideal reader. So long as that person enjoys it. It’s worth it. Everything else is gravy. I’ve struggled to accept the truth of either of these theories. But after reading your beautiful words, I think I get it. (I can clearly see that you do.)

    We’re part of a community, a community I’ve come to appreciate more than I would have expected. Members of this community, like Suzie and Susie (and you), serve as role models for those like me who are still navigating a path and trying to find a voice. There aren’t really good metrics to measure the impact of our “place” in this community and I think thats a good thing. What you’ve reminded me of so eloquently and sincerely is that our presence and participation is what makes this whole thing work. (However, I do hope you are recognized for your efforts at this years Blogger Bash;))

    I plan to return to this post periodically, to remind myself of the many benefits that we share as members of this wonderful blogging community. AND to remind myself that rather than anxiously checking Jetpack or Google analytics after publishing that next post, I’m gonna sound my barbaric yawp- and whisper what words of encouragement I can for those fellow bloggers, like me, that thrive on the gift of connection.

    You, Angela, ARE AWESOME

    1. Hi, Gabe! Thank you for adding your insight to this post. I love “presence and participation” as the fuel for community. Sometimes I make the mistake of associating “agreement” with community–but that’s not it. One of the things Glennon also says on that podcast is that she’s not necessarily hoping to be liked, she just wants to be SEEN. I can relate to that. I want to be a participant in this big world and offer my unique contribution without assuming or requiring anyone else to affirm it’s value beyond allowing it to exist. That’s my intention–but I, too, will need to be reminded.
      Your contribution continues to surprise and amaze me. I wish better words were available to express things like gratitude. I need a word that means “from my heart-where all the best of myself lives-thank you.”

  11. I love this post soooo much Angela!

    The lovely folks above me have said it better than I could, but I appreciate all your posts and I’m glad you’re writing for us. If some more people find your awesome-sauce-ness, that’d be cool too, but if not at least you know you’re already appreciated. 😀

    1. I’m delighted you’re reading and liking the posts! You know, I got a little emotional when I read the word “us” in your comment. It reminded me that touching one person, with a single word, can change the world. Each of us is connected to a group, and as each of us learn new things and allow ourselves to change, we impact our worlds in new ways. No metric I know can capture that impact. I think we can only feel it in our hearts. Thank you so much for your comment! 🙂

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