Monday, December 10, 2012

PLEASE FOLLOW: When magical numbers make us do desperate things.

I am in New York today to film some author interview/promo stuff. I know--that sounds cool, right? It is! Especially because I get to hang out with interesting people like Walter Jury, Dan Krokos, and Cora Carmack (we're all repped by New Leaf Literary), and of course, my awesome agent Kathleen Ortiz and the other lovely ladies of New Leaf. The only real drawback: I must put make-up on my face and, you know, be filmed. I love public speaking and teaching, but for some reason, speaking to a camera renders me a seriously awkward duck.

So wish me luck.

NOW, I wanted to chat with you about something I find so very interesting, and have experienced myself on a number of occasions. As I write this, I have exactly 999 Twitter followers. I'm running this Malachi's journal giveaway (*ahem* maybe you'd like to enter ...), and so my follower count has gone up rapidly in the last few days, and here we are.

The temptation, of course, is to attempt to push this process along. I see this ALL the time on Twitter, blogs, Facebook (likes), and Goodreads (adds). People say things like "I would like to get to XX number of followers!" They offer incentives sometimes, and other times they just ask. And ask and ask and ask. Perhaps the round, even number is appealing, or perhaps adding another digit represents a milestone, or maybe it's simply the idea of having that many people hooked to your online self. It feels good, right? You feel popular? Secure? Like it's a badge of acceptance or something?

Like I said, I feel it sometimes, the urge to say COME ON, TWITTER, GIVE ME SOME LOVE (IN THE EXACT AMOUNT OF [insert seemingly meaningful yet actually arbitrary number] FOLLOWERS).

Then I recall how I feel when I see those bleated requests from others. Sometimes I feel generous and I follow, but mostly I endure it because I like the person and am willing to wait it out until they reach this somewhat artificial goal.

But I have to admit that sometimes I unfollow, especially if the request is made several times. It grates.

And here's the primary reason why I don't make requests for specific amounts of followers: It happens anyway.

At some point, maybe even by the time this posts, I'll have 1K Twitter followers. And also: it doesn't mean anything different than having 999 followers.

When I feel the urge to ask people to follow me just so I can reach some magical number that's only magical when I don't have it (because once I do have it, I start wanting to reach the next somewhat artificial milestone) ... I forcefully remind myself that it's eventually going to happen naturally, a by-product of this career and of consistently participating in this community in a positive way. I also remind myself that those magical round numbers don't actually mean anything real, and reaching those numbers in a specific amount of time doesn't mean anything, either.

Have you done this? (it's okay! It's a natural thing to want!) How do you feel when others make these requests? Is it just part of the game? What does it say about us?


  1. Sarah, I used to watch the numbers obsessively, too. But I realized the same thing you did: rising numbers really had a minimal impact on my social contacts. Some random observations:

    During a blog fest, my follower numbers go up. Most of those people will never come back to my blog. However, a couple of them might, and in fact I met my first CP, Marcy Hatch, through a blog fest.

    I gained a blog follower this weekend. He is a spammer. I have already deleted all his comments.

    Most of the people who follow me on Twitter have never communicated with me in any way, but every once in awhile I do get to know somebody new.

    And yes, I also unfollow people who do nothing but Tweet requests for you to like their FB page.

    It's not about the numbers, but behind some of the numbers, there are interesting people.

  2. So that’s why I didn’t get any cupcakes for being your blog’s 500th follower. : p

    And I think you got a good healthy attitude towards it. At first I was like, well, wait, round numbers are important milestones in our culture. Just like you’d celebrate your son’s 10th birthday, or your 10th anniversary. But those come naturally, just like you said. You can’t hurry them along just to get there, and if you did, they wouldn’t be worth nearly as much.

  3. I've just read Cora's book. I'm jealous you get to meet her. :P

    I couldn't even tell you how many Twitter followers I have. I don't even care. Most followers follow me in hopes that I will do the same in return and up their own follower numbers. The exception is probably those who read and write the same genres as me. And I ignore anyone who begs for 'likes' and followers. The only exception is when it's linked to a giveaway and I want to win the prize.

  4. Honestly, I've slowly learned to ignore those numbers. Sure, it's cool when I reached a certain 'number' benchmark that for some reason we all think means something. What I've learned is that the number following your thoughts or the 'Likes' on your author page is not as important as the number of those followers and 'Likes' you actually interact with. What's the sense in having a large number of followers and not conversing?

  5. I...make it a point to never follow someone just because that person is trying to accumulate followers. It grates on me. I'm not following a person to boost their statistics. I'm following because I /want/ to see what this person has to say on a regular basis. I don't unfollow people if they get excited about reaching a milestone though.

  6. You're gonna do GREAT!!!

    LOL--yes, followers will come (hopefully) whether you ask for them or not.

  7. What you all said above!

    Because I can be an hornery old cuss, I have unfollowed Twitterites who get into a lather about gaining their xxx follower. I even did it to a literary agent once.

    I want to interact with people, not see them as arithmetic. As you say, Sarah--you'll hit you 1K follower whether you shake your tambourines and blow your whistles or not. (And we love you for your honesty and smarts and your splendid writing, not because you're a whiz at the numbers game.)

  8. I get all wrapped up in numbers sometimes, but then I see two things--people with way less followers, and people with way more, and the perspective makes me think, "What difference does this really make in my life?" And then I chill a little. Now I just let people naturally find me. My psyche is better off that way.

  9. I don't pay much attention to my followers any more. I did at first, and couldn't wait to reach that magical 100 mark. After that, it started becoming a lot of work to keep up with all the blogs.

    What interests me more than followers are people who comment. I know blogs with over 500 followers and only a few regulars consistently comment. One day I looked at my followers and it had increased by about 10, and not one of the new followers commented on the post, or had a way to follow them back. And I'm not convinced followers equal sales on books or stories. Afterall, followers are other writers who are also trying to sell themselves and their writings.

    It is cool to have people follow though.

    Good luck with the promo stuff Sarah. I'm sure you'll do fine and have lots of fun too.


  10. I must admit I like watching my numbers go up. But asking for it? Not so much. Just let it happen organically.

  11. Sarah, I actually removed the Followers widget from my blog (with an explanation in a tab across the top) and replaced it with an e-mail option for anyone interested in having my weekly post delivered to their in-basket. It occurred to me that of my nearly 300 "followers," most probably don't follow at all. I know I'm a follower on tons of blogs I, well, don't follow. At all. So the number doesn't mean much to me and I found it a bit of a distraction. It just seemed less stressful to remove it, so I did.