On tokens of engagement and not taking things personally

Tokens or Engagement

Don’t allow tokens of engagement obscure what’s more important

Valentine’s Day annoys many men because they are compelled to buy tokens of affection (roses, chocolates and greeting cards) as stand-ins for what most of us really care about, which is caring, respect and love.

Stand-ins; however, can be like shiny pennies for both parties. These shiny pennies might get your attention, but in the overall scheme of things, they’re not worth as much as other more important things. Clearly, it’s way easier to buy chocolates and roses than it is to care more.  The problem with stand-ins, is that they’re rarely more than symbols, and everyone who has been around the block at least once knows that symbols sometimes lie.

Similarly, as bloggers, we often confuse stand-ins for the real thing. We might spend hours publishing a post we’re really proud of, only to feel vaguely disappointed at the deafening silence of our audience. Or we might quickly whip up an unedited picture with credits, and we’re surprised at how much engagement we receive.

Any blogger with a public blog appreciates views, likes, comments, social media shares/ reblogs, and follows. Blogging, like so many creative pursuits, can be a lonely exercise. These tokens of engagement can help us feel acknowledged for the efforts we make. But, they are not always what they seem.

Imagine you are walking down a busy and familiar street in your neighbourhood. As you walk along the sidewalk, you may notice someone you know walking towards you in the opposite direction. If they see you, that’s a view. If they smile and wave from a distance, you might consider that a like. If they stop and exchange a few pleasant words about the weather or what you’re wearing, that’s a comment. If they take a moment to introduce you to the companion they’re walking with, that’s a share or reblog, and finally, if they add your contact details in their mobile, so that they might more easily connect with you again, that’s a follow.

Tokens of engagement represent how our presence affect the actions of others. Generally, in everyday life and blogging, we tend to like more engagement that less engagement.

But again, like most stand-ins for the real thing, these tokens of engagement can sometimes distract us from remembering what really matters. There might have been a million reasons why the person walking along the street either didn’t see you, was preoccupied with something if he did, was in too much of a hurry to stop and make chit-chat, or might have felt unsure of how to introduce his friend, or might have though he’d just find you on Facebook when he got around to it.

What’s important to remember is that tokens of engagement are just that: tokens. Tokens are not the thing itself. Likewise, the tokens you receive aren’t necessarily a valid representation of the thing (e.g. audience, appreciation, consideration, or respect) they are meant to represent.

A few examples of reading too much into tokens of engagement.

Let me give you a few examples from my own blog, that might help illustrate how misleading the presence (or lack of presence) of tokens of engagement might be.

My Second Life History quiz post (published Feb 8, 2015) received 1125 views in 7 days. It’s been my most viewed post this year to date, and when you consider that it generated 588 responses in those seven days, it’s even more remarkable. That’s an astonishing ratio of views to engagement (a ratio almost 2:1) is and the best volume of engagement I’ve ever seen from anything I’ve ever written.

In all my enthusiasm, I might conclude that quizzes are really popular, and that I should give up my regular posting approach, and publish quizzes instead. But there’s more to the story. And for this, I need to explain ratios. A ratio is how one thing compares to another. When I consider how engaging a blog post is, I want to look at two numbers: the views and the engagement token (a like or a comment).

For example, a post that receives 100 views and 100 likes, has a view to like ratio of 1:1, where a post that receives 100 views and 10 likes, has a view to like ratio of 10:1. For any engagement ratio, the closer the first number is to 1, the more a blog post engages people to do something.

My quiz post has received 9 likes and 30 comments (51 total but 21 were my responses to comments that I won’t count in my ratio). Here is what those ratios look like

  • views to likes ratio of 125:1
  • views to comments ratio of 38:1

Pretty different, eh? The point is, if I were to only judge the value of my quiz post by the number of likes it received, I might conclude that quizzes were at best an average way to generate audience engagement.

As a point of comparison, my next most commented post is called The Instant IM and Honouring Transition Time in Second Life published in December 2014. This post had 28 comments (10 of which were my responses to comments, which I won’t count in my ratio) and 16 likes. Despite this reasonably good level of engagement (for me), the post only had 152 views total. The ratios look like this

  • views to likes ratio of 10:1 (views to likes)
  • views to comments ratio of 8:1 (views to comments).

That’s better than my quiz post, which might lead me to conclude that writing about the everyday pet-peeves we experience inworld might be a better way to generate audience engagement

My most liked post is The fog comes on little cat feet. This post (a popular poem set to images taken inworld) was published in October 2013, and has been viewed only 63 times, but still received 21 likes, and 2 comments. The ratios are:

  • views to likes ratio of 3:1 (views to likes)
  • views to comments ratio 32:1 (views to comments)

As far as likes are concerned this post is a sure winner, which might suggest I should write very short posts (e.g. poems) set to images taken inworld. People clearly like them, right? The views to comments ratio, however, suggest that people don’t really find much to talk about in these posts, so if it’s conversation that I’m looking for (I am), maybe this is not the best type of post for me.

My most viewed post is My digits – Approximating human proportions in Second Life, published in June 2013 with 3,197 views to date. This post received 10 likes and 12 comments. The ratios for this post look like this:

  • views to likes ratio of 320:1 (views to likes)
  • views to comments ratio of 266:1 (views to comments)

Those are dismal engagement ratios, which might tell me that my post about modifying my shape to be more realistic, whilst interesting to many, wasn’t well received. Maybe the images sucked. Maybe my writing wasn’t interesting enough. Maybe people don’t like my ideas. But if I look at the views, clearly there’s a lot of interest in shapes!

If it all sounds a bit meaningless, it’s because it is.

Tokens are merely tokens.

Whilst I’ve taken a rather logical view here by calculating ratios, I think that many of us check the value of our creative output (our blog posts and pictures) in a similar, albeit more emotional, way. The problem, is that whilst these engagement tokens are real, interpreting them to mean what we think they mean might lead us down the wrong path.

Does this sound familiar? You publish a post. It’s gets half-dozen likes, we crack a bit of a smile. It gets 10 or more likes, we get a little more happy. It gets two or three comments, we get a little excited. It gets 10 or more, we’re positively giddy. We start looking at our stats. Before we know it, we’re reloading the post on our blog, or refreshing our email, just to avoid missing any more feedback we’re getting. Sometimes, we might even be surprised that a post that might have taken an average amount of effort (or even less than average amount of effort than other posts we’ve written), seems to get more positive engagement.

What happens when we spend a huge amount of effort writing a post (like I do for most of my posts), taking and editing pictures for it, and then finally sharing it with the world, only to have it met with nothing but a deafening silence? Might many of us not feel vaguely disappointed? Might some of us even question the quality of our skills, the merits of our efforts, or even the value of our ideas? If we’re a little more self-confident, we might instead blame the audience. Clearly, they don’t know quality when they see it; or, our post might not have been as popular because it wasn’t mainstream enough; or, people didn’t like it because it wasn’t about easy things to like, like pretty dresses and glammy shoes.

This isn’t you? Oh, ok. I guess I’m the only one. But if you do see yourself relating to the above scenarios, let me say it again: the symbols lie.

The first problem is that the data doesn’t represent the truth. The quality of your post (how well written, engaging, stylish or well researched it was) tends to be unrelated to the tokens.

Your quality as a blogger (how much of a good writer, photographer, stylist, or clever trevor you are); again, tends not to be related to the tokens you get on your blog posts.

Much of the time, it’s not about you.

There are so many factors that influence engagement – which aren’t really about you at all – which include:

  • How engageable is your post? My survey is not the best survey ever written, it just happens to be the type of thing that people like to do on the internet. It’s also something that people like to share. Quizzes don’t necessarily reflect the sharer’s values or point of view, which makes them easy to pass around without exposing oneself to the vulnerability associated with taking an opinion on something.
  • How focused and controversial is your post? My post on the Instant IM is easy to engage with because it’s about one thing that many people can relate to, and it’s relatively easy to agree or disagree with my views, inviting more comments than likes.
  • How light and fluffy is your post? Lighter content (like feel-good poems and pretty pictures) invite a lot of likes, but not as many comments. These things are easy to like. Like mom’s apple pie, they’re not controversial and they might brighten up our day a bit.
  • How many followers you have that are registered on the same blogging platform? Many people inworld tell me they like my posts, but don’t like them on WordPress, because they don’t have WordPress accounts. My personal experience tells me that leaving comments on Blogger posts isn’t always easy or reliable.

The second problem is that we’re not that good at interpreting data, even when it’s valid. Half of any engagement ratios depends on the number of views your post received. Similar to engagement, there are many things that influence views –  that you have ZERO control over – which include:

  • How timeless is your post? Posts about a particular fashion item or event will never be as timeless as posts about more general things, like shapes, or pet-peeves, or technical how-to posts and tutorials. The latter posts, will always get more views in the long run.
  • Who shared your post? I know that if a select handful of bloggers like what I write about enough to share it, that post is going to get a lot of views. Whilst I appreciate the many shares it received among many bloggers, I can pretty much owe the bulk of the views received by my quiz to mainly one referrer.
  • Where was your post shared? I’m not a plurker (I just don’t get the user interface – if anyone wants to volunteer to help me with that, I’d be all over it), but my posts that others share on Plurk and Twitter tend to garner a lot of views. Posts shared on Facebook don’t do as well. I’m not sure why that is, but it is.
  • How search engine friendly is your post? Far away the most common search terms that lead visitors to my blog are related to avatar shape and avatar appearance, which is why my post on human proportions gets so many views. It just happens to be a popular search term for people interested in Second Life.
  • How well does your post ride popular coat-tails? Since posting; however, my shape digits post receives most of its views in June, when Strawberry Singh does her what’s your digits challenge. I’m not a frequent participant in memes, but some really inspire me, and those posts tend to enjoy a high number of relative views.

You have an invisible audience that may not be acting, but they’re watching.

Blogging, in some ways, is like speaking to an audience behind a curtain. You know they are out there somewhere, you just can’t see them. It can drain one’s enthusiasm. It is probably the number one reason people give up on blogging. But consider the fact that your real audience is probably much larger than you think. Most of us gauge our audience size by guessing. We sometimes base the value of our posts by the number of likes and comments, or by the portion of our follower list, or by how many friends read it, or by who might be interested in the topic, or for all sorts of other explanations we make up for ourselves.

The fact is, a huge proportion of our audience is, and will always be, invisible. When blogging, we’d do well to remember the 90-9-1 rule. In most internet communities, of which Second Life blogging is one, 1% of the people give most (with posts or engagement tokens), 9% of the people give occasionally (writing, liking or commenting on posts here and there), and 90% of the people are lurkers. It’s not that a lurker didn’t click like or comment on your post. It’s that they don’t tend to click like or comment on anybody’s posts.

When it comes to the presence or absence of feedback: don’t take it personally.

Yes, most of us appreciate likes, comments, shares and follows. Many of us would also like to know how to influence those tokens of engagement. We’re human. Since we were little, we’ve been conditioned to expect positive feedback for a job well done. We tend to smile when our posts inspire discussion – even if its disagreement. We’d always rather get a new follower, than lose one.

But don’t, regardless of how challenging it might be, let tokens of engagement distract you from doing this for your reasons. Don’t let likes and comments tell you what you should be writing about. Don’t let followers influence what you share, or what you hold back. Stick to your guns, write what you want, share what matters to you, and stay motivated.

TL/DR: Blog because it makes you feel good, regardless of the feedback your blog posts receive.

Keep a consistent schedule? Yes. Invite participation? Yes. Contribute value in your posts? Yes. But always, always remember, you are your blog’s number-one-fan, and very likely its most unyielding critic. Whilst it may at times feel like you’re a lone voice in the wilderness, at least it’s your voice. Keep at it, and Happy Valentine’s Day.

* A big hat tip to Seth Godin for inspiring me to write this post, by writing this post today.

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20 Comments on “On tokens of engagement and not taking things personally

    • Great article and very good, at least for me, to get this reminder on how statistics, likes, comments and so on should not ‘rule’ your blogging when you do it for fun. Yes, I look at mine and yes I recognised myself in your post, and I, too, have been amazed on which posts ‘seem’ to be ‘better’ than others.
      Thanks for this!

      • Hi Caity. Yeah, that’s an ever-alluring and dangerous trap that I could write a whole post about – comparing one’s “success” to others. It’s not only self-damaging, we’re often using inaccurate information, and it doesn’t help us achieve our goals. It’s human nature to compare, but it’s a battle we’ll never be able to win because there will always be someone better than us in one way or another.

        Sometimes I’ll get engagement from wp.com bloggers that write RL blogs (they exist!). I’ll hop over to their blogs to have a look and see the literally HUNDREDS of likes and HUNDREDS of comments they have on what amount to 2-3 line posts… It’s enough to make you wonder why it’s sometimes so hard to get engagement for one’s own work. Again though, there are probably hundreds of reasons why these posts are getting the engagement they do… and it has nothing to do with me or you!

        That’s a thought I can live with 🙂

  1. Pingback: On tokens of engagement and not taking things personally | BloggingSL

  2. I completely agree with you on this post and I see numbers as you see them, the problem is that when you apply to get sponsors they care a lot about this tokens, so even though this doesn’t have to be so important it ends up been important.

    • That’s a good point Nanny, and educating them is probably not easy. I have a post in mind about how to increase the chances of getting these engagement tokens, even if we personally aren’t dramatically affected by them… stay tuned! 🙂

  3. First of all I love that you tied in valentines day as a jumping off point for the rest of the piece..brilliant! I lurk as much as I can until the pot bubbles over then retract from commenting lest I sound redundant or insincere. This is something I’m personally I trying to overcome. Altogether great post Becky!

    • I hear you on the worry of redundancy and insincerity. Sometimes it feels weak to just write “Hey, yeah, I thought the same thing… err, nice post.” Still, I’d never count you as a lurker! You write a terrific blog with frequent, high-quality posts and pictures to.die.for. (including.. to borrow Caity’s “ahem”, my beautiful profile picture thank you very much!). So yeah, you’re definitely a valuable contributor and I’d go as far as saying that just having you simply “ditto” one of my blog posts with a comment is enough to make me smile 🙂

  4. Reblogged this on Canary Beck and commented:

    I’m a new contributor for Second Life Blogger Support and kicked things off with this post about how we, as bloggers, often confuse tokens of engagement (likes, comments, shares and follows) with the value of our contributions. If you’re a blogger, and have ever been emotionally affected by the feedback (or lack of feedback) to your posts, have a read (and don’t forget to follow [SL] Blogger Support! If you want to… it’s up to you… I’m good either way… really.. 😉

  5. It always surprises me, as a flickrite, how some shots seem to get faved more than others. Occasionally I have a higher estimation of a particular pic then others, and sometimes the converse is true. Sometimes they coincide. In the end it’s about pleasing yourself and being delighted when your and others tastes intersect.
    Being overly immersed in what is basically a small sidestream that is part of a much larger virtual cosmos called the internet can make us take things a little too seriously. I personally like to believe there are other things in the world that deserve our greater attention.

    • Flickr is an excellent example of this because it’s so easily testable! I am frequently amazed (although I probably shouldn’t be by now) at the images that get ten times as much engagement as much higher quality images on other photostreams.

      In fact, I realised something that should have been obvious a couple of years ago with a few images of me (taken by a photographer friend of mine, who is as SL famous as you can get ;). She is a very good photographer and has a big following on both her blog and social media, and her images are first rate.

      Here’s the thing: At the same time that anything she posted would easily receive over 100 likes; my four posts (added with permission) of the same images got 7, 5, 8 and 9 favourites respectively. Easily 10% of the engagement she gets. Why? It had nothing to do with the quality of the pictures. It had everything to do with the following of the photostream.

      The take home: tokens of engagement are a function of considerably more than quality.

  6. Actually I agree with you on this “You have an invisible audience that may not be acting, but they’re watching.”. I wouldn’t leave any comments here and just wanted to read your post, however, it made me realize to post a comment..LOL! Yes, I like wandering on web and read current blogs but not my type to leave comments upon reading posts.

    Rick and Clay County Bail Bands

  7. This is a really cool post and it rings so true. I used to blog and literally seconds after posting and ‘advertising’ my blog, I’d sit and watch like a hawk for my Facebook, Flickr and wordpress stats anxiously waiting to see if I’d get likes and hits and perhaps even a comment. And I rarely did. The ‘deafening’ silence you speak of discouraged me a great deal and made me feel like perhaps I was just crap at what I did, my writing was horrible or my photos were fugly and posts that I initially enjoyed making became a thorn in my sight. Naturally, I gave up. Clearly I sucked so why bother, right? Well.. the main reason I ever even began the blogging journey is that *I* loved taking photos and editing them and getting a look together to show off the fruits of my latest shopping spree. It made ME happy, it was never meant to please every other Second Lifer out there. Alas after a long break, I started blogging again back in January this year and this time around I’m really just trying to focus on what makes me happy, what I want to see in my photos, what I enjoy, what MY personal style is. I’m not buying items because they’re popular, I’m not taking pictures to be like anyone else or impress the blogging gods and I’m not writing my blog post in the hopes of gaining appreciation from designers. Nowadays I blog for me and everything feels more relaxing, fun, authentic and much more like myself. Funny part is, since I started doing so I’ve actually gotten more positive reactions to my posts than before and they’re not always stat-visible reactions. One creator recently actually contacted me in-world and thanked me and gave me a fatpack of their latest creation as a thank you. They didn’t hit like on my post or pictures or left a comment on the site but they did contact me personally to appreciate my work. Truth be told, that right there is actually far more mentally rewarding that hitting a like button. On top of that I know of myself that I don’t always hit like either and I rarely comment even if I thoroughly enjoy something and that’s simply because I’m not that type of person. I read, I enjoy, I share the link with a friend in-world through IMs if I think it’s really interesting and then I close the page to move on. Silly huh? Anyways long rambles short lol, thanks for your post I think it’s a great one and something every blogger should take a look at because it’s a competitive and seemingly harsh world out there in blogging land and it’s far too easy to give up based on numbers, or a lack there of and stop enjoying what you felt like was a wonderful journey.

    • Hi Ashlene!

      First, good for you for commenting on this post! Given that it’s not a habit, I’m even more impressed. I’m so glad that you came to realise the value of intrinsic motivation when blogging and wish you continued success 🙂

  8. Interesting to me as I read this I picked up on similar feelings I have had writing in other places. I kept an online journal at a now lost website that had some social elements to it as well. At that place, I was writing for me… my diary. But when my entries elicited a response from people who read my diary it was often a good feeling. As I recall, it didn’t matter so much to me how well thought out that response might have been but the fact that it brought a response at all.

    • Yep. Agreed. Bring on the “I agree.”, “Nice post!” and the “Thanks for writing this.” These comments aren’t all that contributive, but we writers still love them 🙂

  9. Came back to this post to read all the comments and figured I may as well comment again!

    I get the feeling some mentioned, you blog for yourself. You tell yourself ‘you blog for YOU and a reader or two would be nice’..and yet, here we are..staring at statistics and seeing likes and favourites and comments on other blogs, similar to ours, and wonder what we lack?
    Yes, I blog for me too, it is MY hobby, MY joy. But I am not too big to admit I also enjoy readership, comments, interaction. If I really wanted to just write for me..I could do it in Word/pages or a moleskin notebook and keep it for me?

    I don’t think it’s a bad thing to want readers, to want…recognition and well…compliments. But we cannot, or hardly!, control what others like and in the HUGE world of Second Life bloggers a very big part of ‘visible’ attention (comments, replies, likes) are often due to hard work and a large social network. Well, unless you are so incredible original, well known and a special snowflake that the world drools over every word you type, but face it…that is rare.
    In the end it is all about who knows you, who do you know and also: how interactive are you yourself? If you never, ever, comment or like/favourite something from someone else, chances are you will not get them either.

    It is called ‘SOCIAL’ networking for a reason. As in: ‘You like my stuff, I like yours’ . And that..ultimately makes those likes/favs and whatnot statistics as a consequence less valuable, and not ‘social’ at all and should make you realise that after all, you blog because YOU love to do it.

    • Ok. You’re saying that we should like engagement? I agree completely! And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with doing so, as I mention in the post.

      Yes, an engaged audience is the product of good content + hard work. Even so, regardless of how good my content is or how how hard I work, at the end of the day, all you can control is yourself (I know you know this 🙂

      I make an effort to engage with blog posts I enjoy by liking and commenting. I’m not perfect. I will forget to comment, or avoid commenting altogether for any number of reasons. I think commenting is an overlooked skill actually – as important as writing blog post themselves. Commenting is as important as responding to someone in a conversation is as valuable as talking in the first place. One can’t only have a conversation by just talking. One needs to listen, and respond well to have a good one!

      Of course I find it kind of sad of write a post and have no one respond. It happened a lot in the early days, and I just had to push through it. Just like I would feel if I was in a room with a bunch of people, said something out loud, and it fell like a plop only followed by an awkward silence. Still though, when a plop happens, it’s probably more about them than me. If someone were to blurt out something and no one commented at all, I’d say *something*, just to help them out, but I can understand there are people who don’t want to stick their neck out.

      I’m just saying, like you’re saying, don’t let the odd plop ruin your day, and most importantly, don’t let that teach you how good of a blogger you are. If after 5 years though, lots of content, and a lot of proactive interaction… you’re still getting *nothing*… then that might be a message you want to try to interpret.

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