This Week I Quit Checking My Online Analytics
This week I quit reading the metrics, managing the data, and looking at the analytics on all my online interactions. I felt fantastic about last week’s decision to quit Snapchat, right up until I got to describing my feelings about Instagram. Then I had a weird sensation in the pit of my stomach, something about how few followers I have and what feels like a poor return on the effort of posting photos.
In other words the damn metrics were killing my buzz and making me doubt my strategy.
As much as I say I’m not online just for the followers or some kind of empirical validation, a part of me always wants to glance at the numbers. There’s a whole ecology I’ve built up to check this stuff out, from how many views my blogposts get, where readers come from, to when and why people follow or unfollow me on social media.
But, what if I pulled down this whole dysfunctional church, brick by brick? Might it help me feel better? Or more importantly, could it make it easier to focus on the work I need to do?
Why Go So Deep So Often
I’ve been asked a few times why I’m going so deep in this series. Why bother deleting my Snapchat account when just deleting the app off my phone is enough? Why make such an effort over changing the way I put away clothes? Why count exactly how many people I was deleting from my contacts list?
This didn’t start out as a series, as something I planned to keep doing over time. It started with a decision to quit one online platform – Medium. But, this small first step made me aware of something deeper. During this I Quit series it’s felt at times like a low intensity guerrilla war with my habits; from apps and services that feel like pointless distractions to everyday practices that don’t reflect the way I want to live. The thing that seemed excessive, that called out to be quit always pointed to some other, misguided or no longer relevant commitment that once felt right, but now is a drain my time and energy.
The Act Of Un-Measuring
So, I could just try to ignore the numbers, or I could ask the deeper question, why do I do it. Why do I bother to check if and when people follow or unfollow me on social media. Why does it matter if people read this week’s blogposts more or less than last week’s ones?
Validation is a deep subject for anyone working in the arts. We spend so much time staring into the void, trying to work ideas that might might hold together into something we hope will capture people’s imagination. Right now I’m working on a series of photos I want to exhibit. It’s an idea I’ve struggling with for months. It’s forcing me to learn new techniques. I’m not even sure if it will ever be ready for exhibition and if it does, will people spend any more than a few minutes or seconds taking it in?
Compared to that uncertainty, the tangible numbers of likes on Instagram, views on a blog, or “engagement” on Twitter feels almost reassuring. But, it’s a false assurance.
Maybe it’s just an issue I face, since I’ve never been good at blogging diaristically, as in, “today in the studio I changed ink cartridges and did some test prints.” I tend to find it more compelling to blog about ideas related to work, like creativity, building community, and so on.
But, there’s also a disconnect. The work I want to be remembered for, the stuff that really motivates me to lock myself away from society for days and weeks at a time, isn’t really what I put out on my blog or social media channels. So, if I’m measuring those channels in their current form, am I really gathering the data that matters.
Data Isn’t The Problem
In very important ways I find data reassuring. I’m not comfortable around people who like to argue for the sake of arguing, who debate in order to “win” over people, or how rely on bluster to get their way. I find comfort in being able to look at evidence. In fact, I find those moments when the data makes us question our assumptions, or rethink our “gut” intuition as powerful, almost emotionally uplifting moments.
I got into checking my blog and social media numbers largely as a way to understand what was going with my activity there. So many theories abound about how to “do” blogging and social media. I’d rather try to understand it based on my own activity.
But, there’s a danger in giving time over to that instead trusting the real work. Right now my blog isn’t getting a lot of readers. But, my writing is close to as good as it’s ever been. I know I’m helping people. I want to lean into that, trust that, rather than second guess it because the views per day are low.
The Great SEO Conundrum
For a few years now I’ve been prone to waking up in a cold seat over my website’s SEO. I’ve tried to improve it myself, spending a lot of time reading the ever-changing advice. I’ve tried to contract professionals, though it seems the options are “try your luck on Fiverr” or pay the price of a small used car to an “SEO professional.” Then last year a friend put it to me straight, “what if you just stopped worrying about it.?”
I love that kind of logic, the kind that cuts to the core of the real problem. The blogging gurus tells us we need to sell our souls to get the best SEO possible. But, those kind of rules are written by people who have a vested interest in making you believe that blogging follows a clear set of rules, so they can sell you products based on playing by those rules.
There’s a few reasons why I’m not quitting SEO completely. I’m taking a bare bones approach (if you’re interested, I can unpack that in the comments below). I also haven’t deleted my Google Analytics account (that might complicate things for my web designer).
The Dying Embers Of A Digital Utopia
I’m haven’t given up on trying to put out good, interesting words and images on this blog, or on social media. And, I haven’t stopped caring about what people think about those. If anything I want to deepen the connection I have with my friends, readers and followers.
But, I am starting to give up on a kind of digital utopia that I once believed in. A dream of converting anonymous online numbers into some kind of tangible real world connection.
What I’ve had to admit to myself is that I’m most obsessed with digital analytics and online validation when I feel most disconnected with the real world community around me. I’ve always said the most important part of social media is the social and when social media (and blogging) is just a disembodied activity that only lives in the digital ether it gets, well, kind of weird.
This week I attended a get-together for people who’ve curated and been involved with @BeingTokyo, a rotation curation Twitter account for Tokyoites. It was a fun night at the very hip HopScotch Bar in Iidabashi. Events like that, meeting and sharing stories with like-minded creative souls makes writing blogposts like this easier, because it puts the whole social media game in a bigger, more human social context.
And, while I’m glad for the journey this week, I know the next few times I look at what I need to quit, it will have to be other non-digital parts of life that I’ll have to let go.
This Week I Quit is a (mostly) weekly series where I try, in a personal way, to address the habit of overcommitment. Each week I quit something, it could be an app, a habit, a possession, a word, anything that had a hold on my attention. I explain why I made the choice to quit and what it was like. Last time I Quit Snapchat, and you can read all the posts in this series here.