Thursday, February 12th 2015
I recently published two posts on blog subscribers or followers, Are you following me? and More on followers. My thesis in these posts was that 1. numbers of followers of blogs have increased across the board in recent times, and that 2. I was puzzled as to why this should be. In fact, I was suspicious that followers gained, or thought they gained, some advantage from following large numbers of blogs though I did not know what this real or imaginary advantage might be.
There was a subsidiary topic to this, namely “liking”. The “like” button is a feature of social sites such as Facebook and Twittter and has found its way onto blogs and other similar facilities. Clicking the “like” button in theory enables a visitor to express approval of an item on your Facebook or blog but might there be more to it than this, I wondered? I noticed that while regular visitors to my blog sometimes clicked “like”, most of my “likes” came from people I had never seen before and who, in all probability, I would never see again. To make things more puzzling still, I saw that the “like” button was often clicked within seconds of a post being published, meaning that the “liker” could not possibly have read it. If s/he hadn’t read it, why claim to like it?
To me, this suggested some ulterior motive, though I did not know what this was. Searching on the Web, I discovered the concept of “like spam”, that is, the use of “like” by people to promote their own sites and perhaps push them further up the ladder on search engines. It is annoying to be used in this parasitical fashion and it obviously devalues the meaning of “like”. For these reasons, I closed the like button on my blog.
Imagine my surprise on discovering that, despite the disappearance of the “like” button, people went on “liking” my posts! How were they doing this and why?
Since writing the second post mentioned above, I have looked into the matter again and exchanged messages with a a few people. This has enabled me to take a somewhat different view of “following” and “liking”.
As I mentioned in More on followers, the majority of my followers arrive through the channel of WordPress Reader. I have never used this facility myself and was unaware of some of the implications of its use. If you have not used it, either, then in outline, it allows you to form a list of blogs to keep up with and presents to you any new posts on your listed blogs. It also provides a “like” button that is functional, even if “like” has been turned off on the blog. In addition, the Reader offers you two lists, “Recommended Blogs” and “Blogs You May Like”, respectively.
Even though it provides free blogs, WordPress is a commercial enterprise, based on advertising. To attract advertisers, it needs to persuade them that it has a wide audience. The more blogs, and the more traffic between blogs, the better it is for WordPress. WordPress therefore actively encourages its bloggers to visit one another’s sites. So it promotes “following” and “liking”.
With regard to “liking”, there is a nuance that I had not caught onto that was explained to me by a follower. Events ran thus: I published a post and within seconds, someone “liked” it; I emailed the “liker” curtly, asking why she had “liked” my post, as she couldn’t possibly have read it in the time. Her reply took the wind out of my sails: if you “like” a post in WordPress Reader, she pointed out, that places it in a folder called Posts I Like. In other words, “like” can be used as a “read-later” bookmark. If you see a post that looks interesting but you don’t want to read it now, “like” it and you can come back to it when you have time.
That went a long way to explaining all those “likes” from sporadic visitors. They might find my blog on one of the recommended lists, “like”-bookmark a post and, having read it, never visit my blog again… or even go on following me and reading everything!
So, now that I understand “following” and “liking” a little better, where does that leave me?
I think my attitude to “followers” and “likers” is now a little more benign. I don’t discount the possibility that some people might have an ulterior motive but I think that most probably act in good faith. It is not necessarily the case that once a person has subscribed, s/he will continue to follow my blog assiduously in future. In fact, I suspect that many of them never read more than one post, the one that caused them to subscribe in the first place.
I am also less concerned about “likes”. I still have no intention of switching on the blog’s “like” button again but if people want to use it in the Reader to bookmark my posts for later reading that’s fine by me.
While it is interesting and perhaps a little intriguing to see people signing up to follow your blog or clicking on “like”, this is not something to take too seriously. It is not a reliable indicator of the public popularity of your blog. Nor is the number of visitors. It is very tempting after a day when the number of visits has soared to think that you have finally “arrived”. The sad truth is that most visitors arrive at your blog via search engines and the number of visits you receive will depend on the topics people are currently searching for. There was one occasion when words in a post of mine accidentally coincided with a major news story. For three or four days, I had a high daily count of visitors. Then the news item was forgotten and visitor numbers subsided again to their usual level.
So, “followers” and “likers”, feel free to continue but if you really want to make an impression, why not leave a comment? After all is said and done, it is the personal touch that really counts.