Last Friday, “Under Western Skies” experienced its largest single-day volume of hits since the November launch. Just a few minutes after 10 a.m. Pacific time it had already exceeded the previous one-day record number of hits. The post that day was the moving article guest blogger Julie Nixon posted for International Women’s Day, in which she recognized the contributions of the spouses of those who serve in the armed forces. That essay generated a massive, anomalous count of 156 hits, vs. the typical 35 to 50 clicks UWS collected at the time. (If you missed it, CLICK HERE. Thanks again, Julie.) In the final analysis, last Friday’s hits on this blog exceeded the previous record by more than 50%.
The only conclusion: the world has finally discovered the brilliance and, dare we say it, sprezzatura of “Under Western Skies.”
Well, that is, unfortunately or not, not the case.
Success in cyberspace is all about hits: more clicks = more success. Increasing clicks only matters in any real sense if some of those clicks are translatable into page views for advertisers on the site, or generating votes for a political cause, selling books, and so forth. There’s no advertising on “Under Western Skies,” nor am I seeking votes here, although I have promoted a few causes I consider worthwhile; not even any book sales, since I don’t have a book to sell … yet. Still, I like having more readers than fewer, so Friday’s volume was, for whatever it is worth, welcome.
I COULD generate a lot of hits on any given day, as could any blogger. It’s easy: post something incendiary about a public figure — especially a public official, or just take off on a rant about the government or the media, using language and search tags that guarantee that the blog garners a LOT of attention. I would then forward the link via tweet and Facebook, as well as emailing to as many media outlets as possible, and wait for the traffic to pour in. Of course, such attention might not be all that welcome, since it could also generate a lawsuit, a visit from the FBI or a shutdown of my site by the service provider, not to mention a lot of hate mail. And it’s probably not repeatable on any regular basis, so it would have no genuine value. I’ve been satisfied to continue to write about things that I expect will be interesting, as well as I can write them, and hope that, over time, a steadily larger group of readers will visit here.
The traffic on Friday had a specific source, and it’s interesting to think about what this event says about how online social media work. Earlier in the week, writing about the difficulty of continually generating new story ideas, I referenced two writers I know personally, and whose work I admire, The Tampa Scribe and The Maine Outdoorsman (CLICK HERE for that story). More than just their writing, I admire the fact that they’ve spent their careers producing material that’s seen by large audiences, and the fact that they have sustained that effort day in and day out over many years. Because I know a large percentage of my regular readers personally, and because I feel at ease writing for an innately friendly audience, I made this a sort of inside joke. It’s the kind of thing those two pros cannot indulge themselves in for their work which appears, respectively, in a large-circulation newspaper and on a widely viewed television program. Of course, because it was an inside joke, I poked a little fun at each of them, too.
My cousin, The Maine Outdoorsman, got me back. His popular television program has been running with great success for years. He’s a genial host, he’s smart, and he shows people in his home state of Maine themselves at their best. What a great gig. He’s also reasonably telegenic (all the men in my family are handsome) and so, probably, across Maine, he’s as well-known as anyone except maybe Olympia Snow and, if they were in a restaurant where both Bill and Ms. Snow were dining, many Mainers would choose to go up and talk to Bill.
All media outlets have online presences, not just Web sites but Facebook and Twitter accounts. Both The Scribe and The Outdoorsman channel some of their material to these media as well as their respective traditional print-on-paper and broadcast TV outlets. For their media companies, hits matter; hits generate all-important “eyes:” increased awareness and buzz and ad revenue. The Outdoorsman has a kazillion friends on Facebook. He’s everyone’s friend in Maine. So. He posted a note there that his cousin had made some jesting comments about Maine in his obscure blog. Kazango: overwhelming number of hits to Under Western Skies.
For Facebook to generate traffic to this blog is nothing new. The administration portion of my site tells me each day where the hits originate (relax, it does not show your personal e-mail links or Facebook accounts), and each day most readers link here from the automatic link that shows up on my Facebook feed. It’s an impressively powerful channel. There, in microcosm, is a pure demonstration of why every media outlet from CNN to the El Defensor Chieftain of Socorro, New Mexico are so keen on having those online eyes. Granted a recognizable personality with a distinctive voice, whether it’s Anderson Cooper or The Maine Outdoorsman, media outlets can leverage the identification of their viewers and readers with them to powerfully, immediately extend their reach. We saw here writ small the powerful trend that is a major media force. A word from a well-known personality, pushed through Facebook drives the social media realm.
Conclusions: A) I need more Facebook friends and Twitter followers. B) Be careful what you say about The Pine Tree State: those long winters make them tough customers up there.
Thanks to everyone from Down East who clicked in. Come back some time, and bring a lobster or two.
Note: I have corrected an earlier error, referring to Maine as the “Granite State.” It is, as reader Rob points out, the Pine Tree State. My apologies to everyone in Maine AND New Hampshire.