Social Media (and how to get it completely wrong)

Beneath the Floor - October 2020
Hero dark forest

Ask your average person what they think of social media and it will doubtless be negative. It’s polarising us, getting us addicted to dopamine, making us feel crummy about our bodies and our lives, increasing anxiety, increasing depression and turning us all into zombies. But those same people, myself included, still use it most days and have accounts on at least several of them. I guess funny dog videos outweigh the CRUSHING existential angst that modern life dumps on our poor little monkey brains. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Reddit are my big ones. But it’s fair to say I’ve dabbled in them all.

Yet, if we're being honest, I’ve got two lives. There’s my personal stuff, where I post the odd picture or thought stream - few and far between - then there’s my writing. Now, for personal stuff, it’s all manageable. I barely go on them. Messenger keeps me in touch with my friends, and I’ll occasionally watch someone’s story if the mood strikes. But writing? Hoo boy.

One of the biggest joys with writing is having somebody actually read the damn thing. If you’re reading this, woopee, you’re making this real and not just a one-sided conversation by a crazy person. So thanks for that. But back when I was first starting all this words-on-a-page stuff, I kind of got a little hooked on something I’m going to call ‘shallow growth’. Twitter was by far my biggest culprit for this. I joined up and asked what to do, before I knew it, I’d got a thousand followers. One thousand. That’s quite a lot of people.

Very quickly, I began to increase this. The formula was simple - follow a few fellow authors, and the algorithm pushed me in front of even more. Every day I’d grow, like some hungry, all consuming beast. I even set myself targets, just in my head, but still.

“By the end of the month, I’m going to be at 3.5k.”

I’ve always liked numbers. I’m an engineer for Christ sake. And reading how important a good social following was got me thinking it was all beneficial. “Agents won’t take you seriously if you have less than X followers,” some articles claimed. At the time, I’d got my first draft finished for my debut BEHEMOTH of a novel, and figured the more the merrier.

I wasn’t one of these scumbags either, who follow people then unfollow them to boost their numbers. But it’s fair to say I encountered a few. Still, I was playing the game. And what a sad little game it all is.

I’m at 5k followers now. Five thousand. That’s five times more than what we just agreed was a lot. And the vast, vast majority are empty follows. None of them know who I am. None of them have read a word I’ve written. And why should they? I haven’t read their stuff. It’s meaningless. Because I’m not on there all the time, every day, I have angered the algorithm gods (who demand constant sacrifice), and my posts go unseen. It’s nobody’s fault but my own, of course. Friends I’ve made through writing have done it much better than me, not focusing on the numbers but instead focusing on forming connections with people and putting up decent content. That’s the way it should be. Take a look at my writing feed and it’s random as hell, with gaps of up to several months between posts. No wonder I’m not given any sort of limelight - I haven’t earned it.

My earlier strategies consisted of throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks. When the numbers come pouring in, it’s hard not to feel excited by that momentum. But it turns out that sometimes, fifty can be a bigger number than five thousand. And if you’ve read this whole thing, just know I value you more than a million, billion, gajillion empty #follow4follows. Thanks for making my words real.

Newsletter banner
Get involved. Join the newsletter and get monthly stories, reports and blog posts.