The rush of social media can be tempting. We dip our toes into its magical waters via message boards or Facebook or Twitter, perhaps eventually start a blog, rarely with a definite goal in mind. Almost always without a map. Before we know it, we are swept up in the stream of consciousness of a million glittering lives. Disparate from our own. Startling in their similarities to our own.
It is easy enough to get started, but where to go from there? How to know if anyone is listening? How to gauge just how much we care if anyone is listening?
It helps to start by listening. So many start by talking and are then perplexed by why they don’t hear a thousand voices answering back.
“After BlogHer every year, a stream of mom bloggers close down their blogs.”
I am paraphrasing myself from our “Have you found your Mom Blogger tribe” panel at BlogHer Chicago this year. Mentioned offhand in order to illustrate a point about the frustrations that accompany finding your own community online, it stuck with many in attendance. Privately, I expected that a large chunk of the audience thought I was stretching the truth in order to make my point and noting to themselves to see if this actually happened. I could see it in their slanted glances and pursed lips.
Within a week of BlogHer, it began. The first “This blog isn’t working out as I expected” post. Followed by a “I think I’ve reached the end of my point here.” Rounded out by the more universal “I am overwhelmed and need to leave” post.
The point is always the same: “I quit.” Occasionally, it hints at the pouting “Beg me to stay.” Very rarely, it is sealed with the gracious bow of “Comments Closed.”
Why does this happen? My twitter stream was full of messages asking me how I knew and, more importantly, why why why? As though it is a virus we can shield ourselves from if we just know which vaccine to take.
I know this happens because I listen. I have a lot of time to listen because I don’t spend a lot of time talking. My posting schedule is proof, if my content length is not.
Why do bloggers tend to close down their blogs after conferences? It seems contradictory to the choice to spend close to $1,000 for all of the necessities that accompany a trip to a conference.
I believe our expectations occasionally elude us.
We may enter the field that is social media with little to no expectations, but we quickly develop some hefty ones. We taste the heroine that is comments on our posts and there is no turning back. We receive our first replies on Facebook and Twitter and suddenly the sound of silence is unacceptable.
Our audience is a drug. The absence of them is a withdrawal crueler than we expected.
How did the temptation of immediate feedback ruin our purity so? Aren’t we above all of that shallow attention-seeking? Don’t we write for the art of it? ... I ask with tongue in cheek.
At the first BlissDom, I talked about the insatiable monster that is our statistics. I shared how it felt when I realized that I had 25 subscribers. How I marveled at the fact that 25, count ‘em 25!, people took the time to read me. When I hit 100 subscribers, I told my family about the feat as though I had discovered the healing benefits of acupuncture for the first time.
But those needles soon began to dig into places I had never intended them to explore. Worse, I would turn myself into a pin cushion before I could attain the same sensation as the first time I felt their penetration.
Suddenly, reaching 500 readers wasn’t as exciting as reaching 100. Reaching 1,000 simply illustrated how long it took me to get there versus my friends.
Think you are happy with your progress in social media? Go to a conference. Stand next to someone that is consistently recognized by readers, while those same readers (who you read yourself) can offer little more than a politely blank look when you offer up your blog name.
So you ask yourself, “What did I expect?” Or you don’t even take the time to ask yourself that question because you are so distracted by the sinking disappointment you are drawn into as sure as quicksand.
There is a flip side to this coin, though. The side that often results in a quiet “I’m done” post accompanied by closed comments, eliminating the invitation to beg you to stay.
Occasionally, that blogger that is recognized at every turn finds himself dissatisfied by the attention. They realize that it is a hollow golden calf. That is wasn’t worth the sacrifice after all. That “Internet Fame” is a cavern full of glitter, but still a cavern.
Or, perhaps, that it was all very much worth it, and that they are quite satisfied. Their thirst is quenched and they are simply done.
The spectrum of reasons that bloggers choose to shut down their blogs after conferences is broad. Everything from dissatisfaction with lack of progress, dissatisfaction with progress, full satisfaction with progress, and beyond.
I see posts about feeling left out. Left behind. Being invisible.
I see posts about feeling misunderstood. Misinterpreted. Helpless in the face of what people seem hell bent on believing.
I see posts questioning the writer’s own value. Questions like “Who am I to think anyone would care…?”
More intriguing, I see posts recognizing that “I am not this person any longer.” And feeling lost, unsure of where to go next but feeling sure that movement is imperative.
We lose our footing. We feel trapped by our footing. We feel freed from our footing.
We feel compelled to move. Our legs itch for it. We discover that no amount of furious hand motions will help move us forward, let alone a flurry of fingers across keyboards.
So blogs close down.
When I say that “I own this,” what I mean is that I know the difference between what I want and what I need. I am tempted by the fairy dust that is popularity and recognition for my hard work. However, I look beyond my own expectations and question what comes next. I ask myself “Is that next result what I really want? What I ever wanted?”
Face-to-face with the fairy dust in person, the glittering nothingness may compel us to delve deeper, for the source of this magic is what we seek. Or it may get caught in our throats and gag us. Particularly if we aren’t forewarned against breathing too deeply.
I ask myself, “Do you want a handful of fairy dust or do you want to run with the fairies?”
The answer is clear. I want to run with the fairies. I want to share the fairy dust, while warning my beautiful friends that the glitter is not much more than enchanting dust. Let’s play in it, let’s toss it about. Let us adorn our hair and dig our hands in deep until they are sticky with it.
But. At the end of the day, what I truly want is to hold those sticky hands as we leave the field and then confidently go our separate ways, to meet again another day. If we so choose.
I know the importance of being willing to leave the field of play. To be willing to be forgotten as soon as I’m out of sight by those that were simply there to watch the commotion of wings and winks and flashes of light. To be willing to never be noticed in the first place by those that have come to capture the magic of the few that shone most brightly. To expect nothing more and nothing less than what I make of it.
The stream of bloggers that quit blogging after conferences are a disparate bunch. They are popular, they are unpopular, they are disappointed, they are satisfied, they are outgoing, they are shy.
Failed, fulfilled, discovered and disappointed.
And perhaps for the first time, a willingness to face those expectations head on.
Even if it means being confronted with a mirror that shows us nothing but a sticky, glittery face that doesn’t look nearly as aflame as a sticky, glittery face should.
Sometimes the only way to remove the accumulated glitter from the magical waters of social media is to immerse ourselves in the cool waters of real life.
Click on photos for their beautiful sources.