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Like counts. Followers. Page views. Impressions. Favorites. Retweets.
It seems that you can’t go to any website or app these days without seeing some form of voting system. Vote for your favorite image, double tap to leave a heart, favorite, and subscribe.
The problem is that it’s easy to attach personal value to these numbers. If your latest picture on Instagram got less likes than the last one did, you immediately start wondering what went wrong and why you messed up.
But the numbers don’t matter.
What would you do if you had just one follower? What about 1,000? What about 100,000? What changes between 1 and 100,000?
In this episode, we talk about how to avoid equating personal value with the numbers that are coming in, and ultimately why numbers don’t matter.
Highlights, Takeaways, Quick Wins
- Look at numbers as an indicator of health, not of worth.
- Numbers aren’t just about what you’re seeing right now, they’re about what you’re building towards.
- The positive people who appreciate what your brand is about will stay after you post something controversial.
- Numbers show you who is resonating with your work, and those are the people you should focus on.
- When your audience knows that you’re listening, they’re more willing to engage.
- Reach out to your audience on a personal level so they will feel like you’re approachable.
- If you are a passive creator, you’re going to have passive consumers.
- Create like you’re creating for one person, and create like you’re creating for a million people.
- You never know what a moment of connecting with one person is going to do in the future.
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- 01:54 Cory: Numbers, numbers, numbers. The numbers don’t matter. I need to make a disclaimer here—I’m talking about like counts, followers, page views, and impressions. I’m not talking about sales, profits, or revenue. Those numbers do kind of matter, to a certain extent. You look at your income, and revenue and profit are what’s going to allow you to continue to do business. Look at numbers as an indicator of health, not of worth. The reason we wanted to talk about numbers and why they don’t matter is because I constantly see people get frustrated at the numbers they see. They want to be at the next level, but they feel stuck in this place.
- 02:57 “I only have 20 followers,” or, “I only have 138 likes on my Instagram post,” or, “I only got 2,000 page views last month instead of the 2,865 that I got the previous month.” People get so wrapped up in the numbers they see, and they impose that worth and value on themselves and their brand. They think, “Because I’m not seeing the numbers I want to see, that’s an indication of how good I’m doing, how good I am.” They personalize it and internalize it, and that’s really detrimental.
Numbers Aren’t the Full Picture
- 03:42 Kyle: Just to clarify, we’re focusing on social media and audience in general. It’s very detrimental. People go through seasons of things all the time, and your brand is going to have that, too. A lot of the stuff involved in social media and audience building can’t be completely controlled. Somebody who liked a photo from you on Instagram yesterday may not like one today, even though they liked it just as much. They just didn’t think to tap the photo twice or hit the button. Maybe they’re busy. They’re doing something, but they saw your photo, loved it, and they remember you. You’re still top of mind for them, but they didn’t acknowledge that, and that’s tough.
- 04:36 For anybody that’s used Periscope, it’s a lot like that. It’s this one-way conversation. With Periscope, you’re talking and you know people are listening because there are a bunch of numbers. That number of people have to be watching you, especially if they’re watching from a phone—that takes over your whole phone. They aren’t doing anything except watch you. The problem is that many of them may not comment, so you assume that people aren’t super interested because they aren’t commenting right now. Cory and I have about 40 people listening live right now, and hardly anyone is saying anything. That’s not a bad thing, because they’re listening.
- 05:24 We don’t see that interaction, so we can sit here and say, “People aren’t commenting! Our numbers aren’t up! We need to shut down the podcast.” That’s not correct. There are still people getting things out of what we’re sharing.
- 05:39 Cory: This episode is going to go out and reach a larger number of people than we’re streaming to. We could get wrapped up in the now, this moment, but we aren’t thinking forward to the people we’re going to be able to reach in the future. Look at it and say, “I realize that I’m in this ‘now’ moment, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be my always.”
Numbers aren’t just about what you’re seeing right now, they’re about what you’re building towards.
- 06:15 You’re not going to sign up for an account on Instagram and get 1.3 million followers in two days, unless you’re Justin Bieber. It’s all incremental. There are stages. Ask yourself, how many followers did you have when you first started? Is that less than you have now? If it’s less than what you have now, that’s good. If you had one follower when you first started and now you have ten, that’s a sign of growth. It’s going to fluctuate, and that’s okay. It scales. I know artists who get frustrated when they don’t get over 10,000 likes on the their Instagram photo. “Man, I only got 10,000! I must have done something wrong. Should I delete my picture because the last one got 30,000 and this one only got 10,000? What should I do? I messed up.” It scales.
- 07:31 You might have 100% engagement with three people because all of them are liking your thing. Maybe that decreases, but it’s always going to be relative to your current point. All your numbers are relative to where you are now, and it’s going to scale. That’s why we say that it doesn’t matter if you have 10 likes or 15,000 likes, if you have 20 followers or 20,000 followers. It doesn’t matter, because it’s all relative to what you’re doing right now, which is building toward the future.
- 08:17 Kyle: It’s been over a year, I believe October 2014, since I really started focusing on my Instagram. At the time, I think I had 50 followers. The like counts on anything I would post was about eight to ten people, and that was awesome for me. If I got to ten, I thought, “Wow! Ten people were interested in this!” As time went on, I’m now sitting on over 2,000 followers. I have to catch myself, because sometimes I get wrapped up in thinking, “I haven’t gotten to 100 likes yet.” It’s silly. Me a year ago was super pleased with ten people, and now I’m sad if 100 people don’t come through and like this photo. Cory’s right.
Not All Losses Are Bad
- 09:31 If you’re pushing your brand, especially with the intentionality we talked about in the previous episode, you’re going to have moments when topics you refer to are somewhat polarizing for either you or people in your industry (Related: e13 Approaching the New Year With Intentionality). When that happens, you’re going to see a drop in something. The reason that’s happening is a good thing. The people that aren’t invested in what you want to do and the way your brand does things will drop off, and new people will come on.
The positive people who appreciate what your brand is about will stay after you post something controversial and now new positive people are welcomed in.
- 10:20 They’re in a much better culture. Whether those numbers rise or drop, there are good reasons for either of those. I might write about a topic and think, “Some people may not agree with this.” The other day, I wrote a post about icon design as a profession and becoming a specialist in something. That’s not something everyone agrees on in our industry. There are people that think you should do multiple things, and other people think specializing is the best. I wrote my thoughts on it. My goal wasn’t to offend anybody or cause a riot, it was just to share my thoughts and experiences, the things I’ve gotten out of specializing. Immediately after I sent the newsletter, I saw a decrease in subscribers.
- 11:22 As weird as this may sound, that was something I celebrated. Those people either weren’t willing to take in new thoughts or they don’t agree with what I’m doing, and I don’t expect everyone to be on board with what my brand is doing. The people who would say, “I’m not willing to listen to you and I don’t like what your brand does,” those people are gone now. I’ve got this audience that’s much more healthy. Numbers don’t say a whole lot. If you lose all of your followers in a day, there may be something going on.
- 12:18 Cory: That’s why I say that numbers are an indicator of health, not of worth. There might be a reason why there’s a drop off, and maybe it’s good to know what that reason is. Maybe there’s a reason why there’s a massive increase. It’s good to look at those things and say, “Where did this traffic come from? I know that I wrote this post and I lost 100 subscribers, or I tweeted this thing that was kind of controversial and I lost 100 followers.” That isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the chat room, Cynthia says, “I get frustrated that I see a lot of people following me, but not a lot of growth, which means that people are unfollowing me.” It’s totally their prerogative, their right to do that.
- 13:10 I live in California currently, surrounded by vineyards. Wine country is everywhere where I live. When you’re growing grapes to produce wine, you have to prune. You go in and find the places in the vines that are dead or that aren’t producing as much fruit as you want, and you have to cut those off and let them fall away so you can have a bountiful harvest. It’s not that you’re going through and cutting out your subscribers or your followers, but it’s okay to have there be a little bit of pruning as you grow. The ones who stick with you are the ones with whom you’re resonating.
A Real Audience is Better Than a Big Audience
- 14:10 I want to be clear about the word “resonate.” When someone is frustrated with you, they don’t like what you have to say, or whatever, it’s not because what you’re producing is bad, wrong, or incorrect. That’s not at the foundation. It’s that that person didn’t resonate with what you’re creating, they aren’t connecting, and that is okay. There have been days when I’ve gone on my Twitter account and I’ve watched the number of followers go up and down in single digits. One down, one up, two down, one up. In a single day, I’ve watched that happen. It isn’t that I’m losing followers—it’s that the ones I have are the ones I need to nurture more.
Numbers show you who is resonating with your work, and those are the people you should focus on.
- 15:27 Kyle: However you’re delivering a message to your audience, these topics that are polarizing where someone could be on one side or the other of the topic are great things to address. I get much more engagement from my audience when I do those. In the example of the newsletter that I talked about, the people that did agree wrote in and said, “This was great! I hadn’t thought about this before. I’m excited about this.” I think one person that didn’t like it wrote, “I don’t understand why you’re writing this.” That’s okay. You want people to engage with your brand.
- 16:13 Now you’ve given an opportunity for the people who are really a part of your brand, who believe in what you’re doing, to say, “I want to be behind what this person is doing.” They write in to you, and that is a moment to pull someone in, say thank you, and actually have a conversation with your audience. That’s bigger than any number you could have. I would much rather have ten people that email me every time I send something out or post something than to have 2,000 people that sit there silently every time I release something.
- 16:58 Cory: Kyle is saying he would rather have ten followers that engage with him than 2,000 who don’t.
- 17:06 Kyle: You don’t learn anything from numbers. Hopefully, if you’re listening to this podcast, you aren’t doing this—if you are, stop now—these things that say, “You can buy followers,” or, “We’ll add followers to your account.” Those are fake people. It doesn’t matter. There are whole companies, call centers of people that sit around and just follow people so that pages or Twitter profiles can get more follows. What’s the point? Maybe it gives you social proof, but you haven’t built anything.
- 18:07 Cory: It’s false social proof. It’s the worst.
- 18:10 Kyle: You may not have an enjoyable brand, and you’re not going to know that because all of your followers aren’t real. They won’t write in and tell you how much they loved your content because they don’t care about your content.
Dealing With Audience Silence
- 18:33 Cory: Cynthia asked, “How do you deal with audience silence?” At every point that is convenient or matches what I’m doing, I ask a specific question. When someone signs up for the Invisible Details newsletter, you get an initial email that asks you a question. First, you get the free 40 page guide that I wrote, and then there’s a question at the very bottom that says, “What is your biggest struggle with building your brand?” If people are signing up to my newsletter, that’s a relevant question for where they’re at. If I asked, “What’s your biggest struggle in life right now?” That’s not relevant to them right now.
- 19:07 I say, “Here’s something relevant for you right now. If you want me to answer that or you want to have a dialogue, hit reply on this email.” I have also asked questions on social media and said, “What are your thoughts? Where are you at in this?” People can engage that way. Typically, audience silence happens when it’s a small audience and the questions being asked aren’t relevant or aren’t matching painpoints. Let’s say you have 100 subscribers on your newsletter. You send out the newsletter with a bunch of value, and at the bottom you say, “Reply to this with your biggest struggle in regards to this particular post/article.” If nobody replies to that, why not email a couple of people on your list? No formatting, just open up your mail app.
- 20:18 Email those people and say, “Hey, I have noticed that you’ve been subscribed to my newsletter since January 1. It’s been three months. I want to thank you for sticking with it. I really appreciate you being a subscriber. Is there anything I can do to make this newsletter more relevant for you?” Leave it open ended. Send that to 10 or 30 people. Take an afternoon and manually type these emails out to each person, by name, addressing them directly. That’s going to make them realize that you’re actually listening.
When your audience knows that you’re listening, they’re more willing to engage.
- 21:15 When someone replies with a problem or a question, you can reply to that specific email, but you can also turn that into content. Say, “I received this email from a newsletter subscriber, from Jaron, and his question was this. Here’s the answer.” You write a newsletter on that. At the bottom of that newsletter, say, “If anyone else has questions you would like me to address on this subject, hit reply on this email.” Start a snowball of your audience knowing that you’re listening and you want to engage.
- 22:09 Kyle: I think it’s really powerful to make yourself real to your audience, especially if you have an online business. It’s easy for people to think of you as your social media account. It’s easy for people not to make the connection that you’re a real person who does other things, that you’re on their level. Something I’ve done that has created a lot of engagement and conversations in context to my content, though maybe not always my brand message, is that I post three days a week on Dribbble, a social media platform for designers. A lot of that is to show proficiency in making icons and to give people a view of what I can make.
- 23:22 A few weeks ago, I posted this image of some music icons for a music player app. At the end of it, I told them what the icons were for. Then I said, “What kind of music are you guys listening to right now?” Although that isn’t part of my brand goals for icon design, it’s a personal question. Maybe somebody hasn’t interacted with you because they don’t feel like they’re a great icon designer, but now they think, “Oh, I love music. Let me talk to him about music.” Now they know that I’m approachable. They realize that they can approach and talk to me, that I’m a person.
- 24:13 When they get to the point where they start having questions about icons, or whatever my brand is trying to do at that moment, they’ll feel like, “Yeah, I’ve talked to this guy. He’s approachable.” It’s helpful for your brand to reach out there and think outside of the box a little bit about these questions.
Reach out to your audience on a personal level so they will feel like you’re approachable.
- 24:38 Cory: You have to be engaging and invite people into your story. If you are a passive creator, you’re going to have passive consumers. You have to be approachable, someone people know is listening, and then you have to respond and engage. You have to put in more legwork than your audience, so they feel like they’re being pulled in and they have a place to speak.
Create For One Person
- 25:24 In regards to the content you produce and the kind of brand you want to have, what would you do if you had just one audience member? Just one follower, just one subscriber. What kind of content would you produce? What kind of newsletter would you write? What sort of products would you make? Now, what would you do if you had 1,000 followers/subscribers/customers? Think through that. What about 100,000? What are you doing for 100,000 people? What changes between one and 100,000? Why are you doing things differently for one person than you are for 100,000 people?
- 26:26 Think through that and ask yourself, “What things need to scale, and what can stay consistent?” Create like you’re creating for one person and create like you’re creating for a million people. There is a great speaker named Andy Stanley who said, “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” In this particular situation, he was talking about adoption. You might have these big, glorious plans, but if you get so caught up in the numbers, you’ll forget that these are individual people.
- 27:23 With every single episode of Invisible Details, with everything we put out, we want to drive home that you are creating for people. People to people, that’s the only way brands can be successful. By people, for people. As you grow and expand, as your brand gets larger, 100,000 followers is 100,000 individual persons—unless you went on the site Kyle talked about where you can buy followers. It’s always going to be one person to that one person. For them, it’s just one.
Think about what you’re doing for one person and produce that for a million people.
- 28:22 Kyle: If you’re just starting your brand and maybe you’ve started some social media accounts attached with that, you’re trying to build your audience and you’re concerned with all of these numbers, you need to understand this. At some point, you’re going to grow and you’ll lose that interaction with people. You become less and less approachable the larger you become, because people don’t understand that you’re still listening to them, and sometimes you can’t respond to everybody. I’m not at that point yet, but I’ve seen that in certain seasons of my business. There’s so much interaction that I can’t respond to everybody. That’s tough. Maybe you only get one person responding to you each month, but don’t take that for granted. That’s only going to be there for a while.
- 29:24 Cory: Also, when you have a lot of followers, if you’re receiving 100 emails a day and you reply to one email, that could make a world of difference to that one person. You could literally change the world for one person. You don’t need to change the world for a billion people. You could, but maybe there’s one person you need to respond to, one person who comments on your Instagram photo amongst the 600,000 people who commented. You go in and say, “Thank you so much. I checked out your portfolio on Instagram, and you’re doing great work. Keep it up.” You were their hero, that brand that’s untouchable.
- 30:09 Now, you’re saying that they’re doing a good job, and they’re thinking, “I’ve got to keep going! This is jet fuel, and I’m going to go to the moon because this person encouraged me.” When you’re building your brand and looking at the numbers, remember the individual people. Create like you’re creating for one, create like you’re creating for a million. Disable all of your notifications and get rid of all of that stuff. Get your mind off of the numbers and start thinking about those numbers as people.
- 30:44 Kyle: Not to get morbid, but at the end of your life, you built this brand because you had a purpose and you wanted to change the world for somebody. Would you rather get to the end of your life and hear someone say, “He/she had 2,000 followers on Instagram,” or would you rather have one person come to your funeral and say, “This changed my entire life.” Maybe one person comes up to you and says that you’ve changed their life—to me, that’s validation for everything I’ve done, and I don’t need to have a ton of followers. If I’ve helped one person understand their worth, be able to do what they want to do, and break out of a bad time of their life, you don’t need more than that.
- 32:00 Cory: A few years ago, I started listening to a podcast. I was listening to this guy online. I was really impressed with his work. He had a podcast where he talked about being really discouraged—he had received some hateful comments or emails, and he was really hurt and questioning a lot of things. I wrote in to encourage him and said, “You’re doing great. You’ve really impacted my life, my creativity, my work.” I did not expect anything in reply, but he responded and said, “Thank you so much. This gave me a really impactful moment in my day. It helped me take a step back and know that what I’m doing is important.” That started a conversation between the two of us, and now I work for him. That was Sean McCabe, almost three years ago now.
- 33:08 He took the time to respond and pushed me on to know that we could have a conversation, that we were both approachable. It started a friendship, which eventually ended up resulting in my joining the Community and him asking me to join seanwes full time.
You never know what a moment of connecting with one person is going to do in the future.
- 33:35 All you can do is to say, “I’m going to do for one what I wish I could do for everyone,” and make it happen.