The Blogging Plateau
Over the last year The Green Study blog has hit a plateau. There’s been very little growth in readership, commenting activity has been slow to middling, and I really haven’t improved as a writer. This is interesting to me. If it were a diet plateau, I’d have to make a few more changes to see progress on the scale. If it were a career plateau, I’d go back to school or attain some new certification. What do you do for a blogging plateau?
The first step in defining any problem, if it is one, is to know what you are trying to accomplish.
Reasons for Blogging
My blogging goals go through a regular review once or twice a year. Since writing blog posts takes time and is not financially rewarding, the intrinsic reasons need to be solid. Generally my reasons have been that blogging has kept me writing regularly for 5 years and I have connected with a group of interesting, smart, funny, and thoughtful people. That sounds nice and reasonable.
If I were to really going to dig deeper, it would be that because I write in isolation, having outside, regular input on my writing soothes my insecurities and urges me forward. And frankly, too much time alone makes me super weird. Not in a kidnap-strangers-torture-cellar sort of way, but in a way that when I enter the world, everyone else seems like an alien and I engage awkwardly. Take me to your leader. Meep-meep. Engaging with others online seems to take the edge off, because writing me can do.
Metrics and Engagement
I used to be more aware of the numbers, the stats, the pings. At least the ones I understood. Whether it be a development issue or spam season, there have been several periods of time over the last 5 years when every new subscriber was a spammer. You lose interest pretty quickly in your numbers when they’re a tourist company trying to drum up hits or to sell you knock-off handbags.
My metrics tend to be engagement – the comment section. Two things changed over the last year on my blog. I stopped answering comments in a timely manner, sometimes missing them altogether because I forgot to return to them. Secondly, I wrote more political posts and decided to institute a comment policy. While I don’t think this necessarily had a deleterious effect, it did slow down the social aspect of engagement, by not engaging in real time and by suggesting that there would be some level of curating.
The goal was to be less distracted throughout my day. Stopping one task to engage in another or getting caught up in ruminations about someone’s comment could throw me off-track for a good hour. It hasn’t worked well. I’m still distracted by one thing or another and am coming to terms with the fact that those are hard habits to break.
I think, too, I’ve been less attentive to commenters. When people take the time to write a comment, it is my hope that I can give it my full attention and respond in kind. But there is certainly a degree of burnout in these exchanges. They’re not full conversations, just interactions that connect only briefly as we move throughout our day. I found myself adding “Answer blog comments” on to-do lists which is a sure way to take the fun out of anything.
The Changing Environment
Culturally, social media is not moving in favor of long form posts. Instantaneous feedback, things that don’t require focus, click bait that revs up our emotions, and content that adapts easily to mobile devices is where we’re at. Perhaps we can hope, like slow living or tiny houses, blogging becomes this hip, retro thing to do for people who have a lot of time and disposable income (hence the time). It doesn’t seem promising, though.
I tend to hunger for longer thoughts, developed ideas, and something with a little more staying power. Maybe there is still room for blogging, as long as we don’t compare it to the lightning fast zeitgeist of other platforms and without the expectation of winning a popularity contest.
These are some of the things that I’ve been mulling over. I know that growth is important to me, but haven’t figured out what that means in terms of blogging.
Do I change content? To me, this is like trying to write for an audience. I like the organic approach – people come here for the subject and sometimes stick around for the voice. Until I write something that irritates them.
Do I run another contest? Contests can be labor, and sometimes dollar, intensive. I’ve enjoyed the five I’ve done over the years, but I’m a little burned out. As the number of readers grew, so did the number of submissions and while I enjoy promoting others’ work, I don’t enjoy “judging” it.
Do I start allowing guest posts? I’ve never done that because I follow blogs for specific reasons, mostly for a writer’s voice. I’ve always felt it better to provide a link to the original work and let it and the author speak for themselves.
Without a profit angle or a willingness to actively use Twitter or Facebook, there are really no gimmicks, click bait titles, or fads I’m willing to engage in that will promote blog growth. There are only a few areas that I can work on: engaging more fully in comments, visiting more blogs and engaging there and lastly, but most importantly, working on my writing game. If it’s not improving, that bit’s all on me.
Have you reached a blogging plateau? Have you made changes to deal with it?