Categories
Blogging

March 2021: Podcast Traffic and Income Report

I’ve been using Clubhouse quite a bit over the last month. Any predictions about Clubhouse rendering podcasts obsolete are absurd. Yes, they are both audio-based, but that is the end of the comparison.

It would be like saying Twitter would replace novels because they are both text based.

The level of discussion on podcasting on Clubhouse is very very basic. In fact, most “experts” on podcasting never really seem to get beyond preaching to people who want to start a podcast.

To be sure that is a large market, and it is probably one of the reasons why so many shows are abandoned before they even get to the 4th episode.

Almost all the podcasting advice you find online is orientated towards the segment of newbie podcasters.

There is little to nothing out there, beyond warmed-over platitudes, for established podcasters who want to grow their audience.

Most of the podcasting gurus haven’t really grown a very large, successful podcast themselves. If they had, they would be too busy with their podcast and would have time for training new podcasters.

I bring this up because the path to success in podcasting or anything else is pretty simple.

  1. Try something
  2. Gather data
  3. Evaluate data and determine what works
  4. Repeat what works and try to improve performance. Eliminate whatever does work, or change how you implemented it to get it to work.

That’s it.

I’ve grown a successful blog and six-figure followings on several different social platforms by using this method.

Everyone wants answers handed to them, and it isn’t that simple.

I have traffic goals each month, and each month I’m not really sure how I’m going to achieve them. That’s the point, however. You have to get your hands dirty to figure stuff out, and if you aren’t doing that, you probably won’t find success.

It is only by setting goals just out of your reach that you will figure out how to reach them.


Traffic

March was a solid month. There was no great spike in traffic, but traffic steadily grew.

Total downloads in March 2021 was 73,742 which was a 21.4% increase over February 2021 which had 60,733 downloads.

There are three more days in March than February, so they aren’t really good months to compare on a monthly basis.

February had 2,169 downloads per day and March had 2,379 downloads per day. On this basis, the growth was 10%.

So far my April growth is on pace for around 85,000 downloads, which is about 15% growth over March.


FINANCES

Revenue

I calculate everything on a cash basis, which means I register it when the payment comes in. That means there is some ad that ran in March that I won’t get paid for until April, and there were some payments I received in March for ads that will run in April and May.

Advertising: $3,198. I had one package of total episode sponsorships and some

Patreon: $138. This is my net after Patreon takes its cut and after the cost of shipping merchandise.

Expenses

Podcast Hosting: $22. Monthly Libsyn hosting fee.

Headliner Monthly Fee: $19.99

Advertising: $429


Summary

Categories
Podcasting

February 2021: Podcast Traffic and Income Report

This is the first of my monthly traffic/income reports for my podcast. This one is going to be quite long as I’m going to give the backstory behind everything and how the show was created.

Overview

I launched my show on July 1, 2020 in the middle of the pandemic. Since then, it is occupied almost all of my time and it has constituted a dramatic shift in my focus and business.

Prior to this, I guess I was what you could call a travel blogger or a travel influence. I made money by working with brands and tourism boards, through advertising on my website, and via affiliate sales.

Almost all of that vanished in March 2020 when the pandemic lockdowns started. I never thought that the travel and tourism industry, one of the largest industries in the world, could just vanish overnight, but it did.

All spending on marketing and advertising by brands in the industry disappeared. Most companies had to focus on staying alive and they didn’t have to money to invest in growth and business acquisition.

Almost all business and recreational travel disappeared. No one was booking trips, no one was doing trip planning, and basically no one was paying attention travel when they were cooped up in their house.

Pretty much every stream of revenue I had either totally disappeared or dwindled to next to nothing.

At first, I thought everything would be over quickly. Things would be back to normal in April or May. As it became clear that wasn’t going to happen, the enormity of what was happened dawned on me.

This wasn’t a temporary blip. This was something which was going to take at least a year, if not two or three, to play out. Especially for international travel.

Countries will open up at different rates. Individuals will become comfortable traveling at different rates. Many people who lost their jobs or businesses won’t be in a position to travel, even if travel bans are lifted. Companies which relied on travelers will be bankrupt by the time everything sorts out. Tourism boards who rely on tax revenue from hotels might take years to get back to where they were before.

In other words, this wasn’t something I could just wait until things went back to normal. At least in this industry, things will never go back to where they were before.

Moreover, even before this happened, I wasn’t comfortable with the state of where the travel blogging business was going. I follow a lot of travel blogs via RSS just to keep up to date with what everyone is doing.

I noticed a disturbing trend: almost everything now is about SEO. Your actual experiences traveling, your thoughts and opinions, the quality of your content don’t really matter that much. SEO now rules everything.

So many of the ‘top’ travel blogs are now churning out pretty much the same SEO-optimized posts. No one even seems to be trying to get posts to go viral on social media anymore. It has become a one-dimensional game.

SEO is fundamentally a game that rewards those who are good at SEO. You don’t have to even travel to have a successful travel website. There are several very successful travel websites that are nothing but articles cranked out by teams of writers, using stock images, and buying links.

Despite what Google says, this works.

SEO is also a zero-sum game. If I rank #1, you can’t rank #1.

It is a bucket of crabs with everyone competing against each other, and against large media companies.

Yes, there are sites out there that are successful with this approach. However, it isn’t something that I particularly enjoy. I started traveling to travel, and SEO doesn’t play to my strengths.

Also, I think that Facebook will do what it can to kill the influencer economy because they want at least a cut of all the money that is going to influencers.

So….in June 2020, with the lockdown in full effect, I found myself needing to do something…..different.

But what?

A Podcast

For two years I’ve had the idea of a podcast floating around in the back of my mind.

I’ve done several podcats before, all travel-related.

This podcast wasn’t going to be travel per se. I was also, finally, going to use the name of my website/brand, “Everything Everywhere” for the podcast.

The show was basically going to be a longer-form version of my current show. An educational show on various subjects.

I commissioned some cover art, purchased some theme music, and began doing research.

I found myself going down huge rabbit holes doing research. My first show was going to be on the Mona Lisa. I had had notes for a 2-hour show, which to be honest, was way too long, and would be way too difficult to monetize.

I put the idea aside and moved on to other projects.

In June 2020, I revisited the idea.

The more I looked at it, I realized that the math worked out much better if I published more frequently. In fact, when I sat down and actually created a spreadsheet, I was sort of astonished at how well a daily show worked.

I flipped my original idea for the podcast on its head. Instead of super long-format shows, I could do the exact opposite. More frequent shorter shows.

I sat down and came up with a list of about 100 show ideas. It was really easy. In fact, I have that same list which I am constantly updating, and I now have close to 250 show show ideas, and I’m adding ideas every day.

I could take the artwork and music that I had made 2 years earlier and just plug it into this show. I didn’t need to do anything special.

All of my podcaster friends I bounced the idea off said the same thing: “its a good idea, but it will be a lot of work”.

Well….I got lots of free time right now.

I developed a very set format with audio transitions, and on July 1, I published episode #1.

Why A Podcast?

So, of all the things I could have done, why did I do this?

Why not just double down on travel?

Many people I know have done exactly that. They are either putting more effort into their main websites, or they have launched destination sites for their town.

This is not a bad idea, but it wasn’t something I really wanted to invest my time doing. I totally understand why most people have done this, and I don’t think it is a bad idea for many of the people who have been doing this a long time.

I also didn’t want to do straight travel. Most people only care about travel when they are about to go on a trip. There is very little new that happens with travel unless you are an aviation or points geek. The average travel website will get much less traffic than a food or fashion website for this reason.

Basically, I’m bearish on travel until 2023 at the earliest. Even if people start traveling this year, there are going to be issues with the industry for years.

Why not start a YouTube channel?

There are some very successful YouTube channels to be sure. You can certainly get more eyes and ears on your content more quickly via YouTube can you can with a podcast.

However, at the end of the day, you don’t own YouTube. I’ve been burned before by big internet companies and their algorithms.

Every single YouTube channel runs the risk of being shut down at a moment’s notice and not even being given so much as an explanation why. I wanted something that I owned and controlled. In theory, I could host the show out of my house on my own servers if I really wanted to.

Also, CPM rates on YouTube are much less than with podcasting, and video product just takes way more work than it does audio. From the start of recording to uploading the finished file usually takes me no more than 20 minutes.

Why do a podcast on this subject(s)?

I was the kid who read the encyclopedia. I’d go to the library, wander around, and pull random books from the shelves.

Between my years and years of academic debate, college bowl, and a decade and a half of traveling around the world visiting obscure places, this show is something that I think I’m uniquely suited to do.

It isn’t a travel show per se, but it does still have one foot in the travel world. I can still talk about all the stuff I’ve seen, the stories I’ve heard, and the places I’ve been. I’m just doing it in an educational framework, not a travel one. I’m not talking about cafes, airports, and hotels because I don’t care about any of those things.

This show will cast a much wider net than a straight travel show will. You can enjoy the show even if you don’t travel.

Production

How do I produce the show?

The most time-consuming part of each show is writing and research. It takes me about 3-8 hours to write and research each show. Oddly enough, the longer shows are often the easiest to write, because I’m usually writing about something I already know quite well.

I write each script in Google Docs. This allows me to switch computers and keep working on the same document.

I will usually have anywhere from 6-20 different websites that I use to research each episode. It totally depends on what the episode is about.

I write everything including the intro, advertisement, and sometimes an outro.

The script is published as a blog post when a new episode is published.

I record using Garageband. I have a Rode Podcaster USB microphone, and I record with a -40db noise filter on Garageband. There is nothing else fancy about my recording setup.

I record each segment separately: intro, Instagram intro, advertisement, outro, and the body. I then drag and drop the segments together along with the intro music and sound effect to create a final audio file.

I run the file through Levelator, convert it to mp3, and upload it to Libsyn.

Marketing

I had a good-sized following on several social media platforms as well as an email list. However, these people weren’t following me because I was podcasting on educational topics. They were mostly following me for pretty travel photos.

So, I wasn’t starting from square one, but I was probably starting from square two.

I had an initial burst when I launched the show back in July. I sent out emails to my list and promoted it heavily on social media. I probably got several hundred subscribers this way. The algorithms really prevent you from reaching the people who follow you. Even after 8 months, I still have followers who didn’t know I have a podcast.

The biggest single variable which determines the size of a podcast audience is time. Most really successful shows have been around a while. As there are no algorithms in podcasting, you need word of mouth, and that takes time.

Another variable is the number of episodes. As I have a daily show, I figure I have that base covered.

Having grown large followings on several social platforms, one thing I’ve learned is that the best way to grow a platform, is on that platform. You get Instagram followers on Instagram. You get YouTube subscribers from YouTube.

Likewise, if you want podcast subscribers, you have to go where the podcast listeners are.

In November, I began running ads on several podcast apps. These are just the apps people on their phones use to listen to podcasts. Some of them let podcasters buy display advertisements on their apps to promote their shows.

So far I’ve run ads on Overcast, Castro, PodcastAddict, and Podcast Republic. The results have been mixed. However, in every case, the cost of acquisition per subscriber was well below the value of a suscriber.

Advertising performance is the only data I’m not going to share on these monthly updates. The reason is simple: this data is almost impossible to find online because no one shares it, and it cost me quite a bit of money to collect this data. Right now, it is a strategic asset that I have.

My other marketing is currently just posting episodes everywhere I can. I create custom videos for every episode for Instagram Stories and TikTok. I have no clue how well they convert because that is almost impossible to track.

I’m also publishing the scripts with an embedded player to Substack. I just started that, so it might take a while to figure out how well it works.

I’m also doing trailer swaps with other podcasters, but it is really hard to find other shows who want to do this. Most podcasters are horrible at marketing themselves.

I’m putting most app advertising on hold for March and April and I’m going to focus on appearing on other podcasts as a guest, and possibly buying ads on other shows.

Monetization

This is pretty straightforward. Podcasts can run ads.

The average CPM for an ad right now is about $25. This is the number I’m using for my planning. I could also probably tack on a lower CPM ad as a post-roll, or maybe a 2nd ad.

One problem with podcast advertising that advertisers really only want to advertise on the top 1% of shows. The number which is usually thrown about is that you need 5,000 downloads per episode to even get ad networks interested in talking to you.

Until you can get to that point, it is really hard to monetize via advertising.

When I get to that point, I’ll see a big jump in my ad revenue.

I’m calling 5,000 downloads per episode “escape velocity” because that is really what you need to achieve to get anywhere with a show.

Everything right now is about trying to hit escape velocity. I’m hoping I can do this in late summer 2021.

One reason I’m running ads now is to gather data such that once I can begin bringing regular adverting revenue, I’ll know where I can most efficiently reinvest that money to grow the podcast even faster.

Once the show is bigger, I’ll have more leverage for doing promotions with other larger podcasts.

Until I can get to that point, I just have to grind it out and grow the show one listener at a time.

Beyond advertising, my plan is to eventually run listener tours when that is possible again. These tours will be more vertical than horizontal. They will be deep dives where we just explore the hell out of one city, and see all the things which most people never bother to see.

Because I’m also writing scripts for every episode, I have hundreds of thousands of words which I publish as a book(s) at a later date. I haven’t done anything with this yet just because all my time is taken up researching, writing, and recording a show every day.

Likewise, all of my audio can be re-edited and turned into YouTube videos.

Basically, I have a ton of content that can be repurposed at a later date.

Traffic

As you can see from the graph, I’ve grown every month except September, and that was because I missed a week worth of shows due to moving. Downloads per episode grew during September, but I just didn’t pump out enough episodes.

February had 60,733 downloads. This was a 14.2% monthly growth over January. Note that February only has 28 days and January has 31, so I had 10% fewer days to count.

For March, I’m estimating 75,000 downloads, but that could be much higher depending on what happens. If I extrapolate the first two days in March, it would be 87,000.

I figure 150,000 per month is where I can start to get ad networks interested. 150,000 downloads doesn’t necessarily mean 5,000 per episode because it also represents downloads from the back catalog.

Finances

Not a whole lot to show yet. However, I already have revenue in the pipeline for March, and I had a few thousand dollars in 2020 already.

Revenue: $158.16
This is 100% from Patreon this month. This is down $20 from the previous month, but it has to do with merchandise being paid for and shipped. I grossed $214 from Patreon for the month.

Expenses

Podcast Hosting: $22
I’m hosting with Libsyn. My current plan can cover a month worth of downloads, so I don’t foresee this number climbing as the show grows.

Headliner Monthly Fee: $19.99
I use this tool to make custom videos for Instagram and Tiktok.

Advertising: $595
This number might be lower or higher in March. I don’t know. I’m not going to renew on two of the platforms I advertised on in February. They didn’t perform as well as I had hoped. Advertising is hit or miss and right now I’m mostly gathering data. As there is so little information available on this topic, I don’t have much choice but to experiment to see what works best.

Summary

  • Things are growing. The trend is positive.
  • I’m nowhere close to where I want/need to be yet. I have to double or triple my monthly downloads to get to that point.
  • The primary goal right now is hitting escape velocity.
  • I’m constantly looking for promotional opportunities. If you have a suggestion, contact me.

Next Month

Next month I’ll break down how I evaluate the value of a subscriber and how I use that value to determine the success of running ads to grow the audience.

Categories
Blogging

What I Learned On The Way to 100,000 Instagram Followers

My instagram follower count

I recently passed the 100,000 follower milestone on Instagram. I was late to the game on Instagram, but I’ve made up for it the past 18 months by making it my top priority in social media.

Much of my success was due to constant testing with my own posts and observing what worked with other successful accounts. Most of the information I found regarding success on Instagram on blog posts is either totally wrong or outdated.

I’m writing this post as a guide for others who want to know what works best on Instagram. As you are aware, this is social media, not physics. You can find exceptions to most of the things I discuss, but for the most part I think they are true.

Also, for the record, I was never put on any suggested user list for Instagram. Everything was organic. There are some things I did that you might not be able to easily replicate, so I’m not claiming that my tips are universal or are able to turn everyone into an Instagram superstar.

Instagram Overview

The process of gaining followers on Instagram, or any other social platform for that matter, consists of 2 parts:

  1. Discovery
  2. Conversion

Discovery is simply the act of finding out that you exist. There are hundreds of millions of Instagram accounts floating around all vying for attention. Getting someone to even notice you can be difficult.

Conversion is getting someone to follow you after they have discovered who you are.

You need to excel in both things if you want to gain someone as a follower. Either one without the other is rather useless.

Images

Instagram is a photo sharing platform. Period.

I’ve had many people ask me, “quality images aside, what is the secret to success on Instagram?”.

The answer is, you can’t just put quality images aside. It can’t be done. It is the heart of the platform and images are why people will discover you and why they will decide to follow you.

I can easily see the difference in engagement between an A photo and a B photo. It really does make a huge difference and far too many people dismiss the importance of image quality.

As such, you need to do whatever you can to improve the quality of the images you post to Instagram. This includes:

  • Use an SLR or a mirrorless camera, not your smartphone. While Instagram was intended to be place to share mobile images, the truth is that photos taken with a smartphone are just not as good as those taken the proper cameras. Less than 5% of the photos I post to instagram are taken with my iPhone, and that is true for many other top Instagrammers as well. If you think that this violates the spirit of Instagram, or if you want to keep it real, you are free to do that, but you will be hurting yourself.
  • Edit your photos. As with any great photo, you need to do some basic editing before you show it to the world. That means editing in Lightroom if you are using a larger camera, or even editing on your phone if you are taking a smartphone photo. The editing tools in Instagram itself have gotten quite good. I do not use filters. Instead I edit every images by hand to get exactly the look I want.
  • Choose your subjects carefully. Despite the common wisdom floating around the internet, I’ve found that selfies and food photos just don’t work very well. Celebrities might be able to get away with it, but other than that, most people just don’t care. As a travel photographer, I’ve (sadly) found that images of people and animals don’t perform as well as images of landscapes, or historic buildings. As you will see below, knowing what people actually like is critical to growing your audience.
  • Check all the boxes when submitting a photo. This tip comes to me second hand from a company that has worked directly with Instagram. Make sure that you have a caption, tag another account, put in a location, share the photo on at least 1 other social platform, and do at least some basic editing in the Instagram app. If you do all these things, it will increase the odds of it being promoted by Instagram. Also, putting in a location and geotagging is very important as it is a means of discovery.

If for whatever reason you can’t take good photos, then you need to look for great photos elsewhere online. There are many large Instagram accounts which just regram photos from other people.

It should also be noted that videos perform horribly. Either don’t post videos at all or do so sparingly as their engagement rates are horrendous.

Discovery

So, how exactly do people discover you? This is the major issue for most Instagrammers. Even if you have a conversion worthy portfolio, if no one sees it, it doesn’t really matter.

One thing I figured out quickly is that the vast majority of people who discover you on any social platform, do so inside the platform itself. That means they aren’t following you because of some widget you have on your website. When I redesigned my travel blog last summer, I removed all the social media widgets. I now just have a small icon available if someone wants to follow me, but nothing more. When I removed the widgets, there was no adverse change in my follower growth rate.

The exception to this is if you are placed on a “best of” list of Instagram account from a popular website. I’ve seen spikes of several hundred followers, and in one case about 1,500 followers, from mentions on such lists. However, you don’t really have any control over your inclusion on those lists, and the bumps are always temporary. To get on these lists you probably already need to be a great photographer or have a very popular account.

The biggest way you can get discovered is within the Instagram app itself. There are 4 ways I’ve identified how this can be done:

  1. Engage directly with other users. This is a fancy way of saying you should like and comment on other people’s photos. This is especially important if you have a small following. Just roll up your sleeves and start searching for great photos. Search hashtags (more on hashtags later) or other terms. Find people who do not have large followings themselves and like or comment on their best photos. Because they don’t get many likes, a like from someone they don’t know will usually pique their curiosity and make them check out your gallery. One technique I used was simply commenting on photos that were taken in places I’ve been. Making some sort of intelligent comment about an image based on first hand experience goes a long way. Sometimes, however, it would something as simple as “nice shot!”.

    Larger accounts won’t notice what you are doing, so don’t bother. This is very time consuming process and doesn’t really scale that well, but it can get the ball rolling when you are starting out. I stopped doing this once I was around 50,000 followers as I couldn’t keep up anymore, and it became a smaller and smaller percentage of my growth.

    I do NOT suggest autofollowing people, or following people back because they follow you. These accounts are garbage and they will not engage with you. As you’ll see below, engagement is everything. Inflating your follow count at the cost of engagement can actually make things worse as it will make your account look suspect.

  2. Get mentioned by larger accounts. There are some Instagram accounts in the 6, 7 or even 8 figures. Many of them use photos from other users. If you can get their attention, it can be a HUGE boost to your ability to get discovered. Just to give you an idea, here is a photo of mine which was used by Beautiful Destinations, an account with over 4,000,000 followers. The photo got over 140,000 likes and 1,600 comments.

    Port-au-Prince, Haiti By: @everythingeverywhere ? Share your global travels with #beautifuldestinations

    A photo posted by BEAUTIFUL DESTINATIONS (@beautifuldestinations) on

    To get the attention of these larger accounts you can use their hashtag. I found that once one of them used my photos, others discovered me and started using my photos. I now get at least one mention on a six-figure Instagram account per week. Needless to say, you need top quality images to be able to pull this off. The image you see above from Haiti appeared on over a dozen different accounts after it was featured on Beautiful Destinations.

  3. Engagement. This is the #1 way I now get followers, and it is why so many big Instagram accounts get bigger. It is so simple and obvious, but I’ve never read an article about Instagram that mentions it. In the Instagram app there is a tab for activity. There you can see what all your friends are doing. Every time someone likes one of your photos or follows someone, all of their friends can see it. This is simple network effects. When someone engages with you (likes or follows) you have the potential to reach their friends. The more engagement you have, the more people will see that engagement. This means that Instagram growth is a lot like compound interest. The bigger you get, the bigger you get.

    It also means that the most important metric is really engagement, not followers. If you have strong engagement, you’ll get followers, but followers do not necessarily lead to engagement.

    I should also mention the power of people tagging friends in comments. Because I post photos of destinations, I get a lot of comments where people flag their friends about taking a trip there, or reminiscing about past trips they’ve taken. This is another great means of discovery if you can pull it off.

  4. Search. With changes Instagram made in the summer of 2015, searching by location made it easier for people to discover you. You should be geotagging EVERY photo you post. Every photo is an opportunity for people to discover you via location search. If you haven’t been doing this, go back and do this to your old photos.

I’m currently averaging 340 new followers per day (taken from the last 30 days). That number has been growing as my audience has grown, showing the compounding effects I mentioned above.

I should also address the issue of hashtags. Hashtags are mentioned in almost every single article on how to get Instagram followers. I’ve never seen any evidence that hashtags do anything. I’ve done extensive testing and I haven’t see any significant impact to using hashtags. Moreover, I’ve never seen any hard data from 3rd party sources that indicate they work. It is just conventional wisdom that keeps getting passed around without any basis in fact. The only time you want to use hashtags is if you are part of an event, or you want to get the attention of a particular large Instagram account (see above).

Conversion

Just because you’ve gotten someone’s attention doesn’t mean you’ve accomplished anything. The next step is to get them to actively want to see more from you in the future. This is conversion.

There are many people who get attention but then have such an unappealing account, that they fail to convert.

There are several things I’ve done to maximize my conversion odds:

  1. Have a clear profile photo. Let people know who you are. Don’t have photo where your face is blocked or otherwise hard to see. A clear photo says you have nothing to hide and makes a personal connection with the user.
  2. Have a compelling bio. You only have 500 characters to play with in your bio, and it is the only place you can have a link in Instagram, so space is a premium. My bio tells two simple facts: I’m extremely well traveled, and I’m an award winning photographer. Those two things combine to create a promise to the user that I’ll deliver high quality and interesting images. I’ll be worth their time to follow.
  3. Have a killer photo gallery. This is by far the most important thing in terms of conversion. People may discover you because of a single photo, but they will follow you based on your body of work. This means you have to constantly have high quality images. If you post something which dramatically underperforms in terms of engagement, you are better off deleting it than leaving it in your gallery. When I suggest that people delete photos, they are often shocked at the suggestion, but it’s true. Curate what people see when they arrive to your account so you are showing your best work.

Posting

For most of my time on Instagram, I’ve been posting exactly one photo per day.

As I figured out the relationship between engagement and followers, it dawned on me that I could get more gross engagement by just posting more. I’ve been experimenting with posting 2x per day and even 3x per day a few times. I post almost everyday, unless I’m in a place without internet access.

The strategy is pretty simple: more photos = more engagement = more growth.

As for when to post, that is something you will have to experiment with based on your audience. I’ve personally found that around 9am ET and 3pm ET work well for me. I’ve experimented with later posting times, and I found they didn’t do quite as well. Even if other times don’t perform quite as well, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t necessarily post at those time, as you will still get engagement, just not quite so much.

I personally only use the Instagram app to post. I don’t use Latergram or any other apps. I could revisit this in the near future.

Stats

I’ve been keeping pretty careful stats on my follower growth. There is little in the way of analytics which Instagram provides, so I’ve been rolling my own.

I pay for the Iconsquare Pro account and use it to get a daily follower count update. I put that number into Excel where I can do things like do projections and figure out moving averages.

Summary

  1. Image quality matters…..a lot.
  2. People will usually discover you through the Instagram app based on engagement and location search.
  3. You need a compelling gallery and bio to convert people who discover your account.
Categories
Blogging

I Lost 3,552 Instagram Followers and I Couldn’t Be Happier

Yesterday has been dubbed the Instagram Rapture. Instagram deleted millions of inactive and spam accounts from their system. The carnage was across the board. The official Instagram, Instagram account lost a whopping 18,880,211 followers!

One account (chiragchirag78) went from 3,660,468 followers to………8! Yes, a 99.9998% drop in followers. (Don’t bother looking for the account now. It has been deleted.)

Mainstream celebrities lost followers in the seven figures as well: Justin Bieber (@justinbieber) lost 3,538,228 (14.8555%), Lady Gaga (@ladygaga) lost 367,924 (7.3475%), and Kim Kardashian lost 1,300,963 (5.5315%). Data from 64px.com

I lost 3,332 followers, which honestly seems about right. About 2 years ago I had a sudden spike of several thousand Instagram followers with no corresponding increase in engagement. About 3,500 seems right. That was about 9% of my total followers.

The reason I couldn’t be happier is because those 3,500 “followers” weren’t really followers at all. I’m guessing they followed me as camouflage, to make their accounts look more legit.

My engagement levels, of course, weren’t touched. I’m still averaging over 2,200 likes per image in December. The only difference is that now I have a better idea what my true engagement ratio is, because now I have a more accurate denominator.

Social media networks are an ecosystem. Like a forest, occasionally you have to get rid of the underbrush and dead wood.

Twitter is probably the worst offender. I’ve seen estimates that up to 80% of all Twitter accounts are bots, spam accounts or inactive. Were Twitter to do the same thing as Instagram (and I hope they do) I’d bet my follower count would drop by and even larger percentage than Instagram.

Why?

Since my Twitter account got verified, I’ve been a magnet for bots and other accounts that have no tweets, profile images or followers; the textbook sort of accounts that are bogus. I see them follow me every day.

I don’t think the problem is as big on Facebook, but the fake accounts damage the ecosystem there even more, because of how their algorithm works. Fake accounts on Facebook also have been known to like ads, which hurt advertisers and engagement rates.

The only reason I can think as to why this hasn’t happened before is that each platform needs to show some big number to their shareholders. If Twitter or Facebook were to eliminate a significant percentage of their accounts, it wouldn’t look good.

In the long run, however, creating a healthy social ecosystem is a huge benefit and will pay off.

I hope this becomes an annual event for Instagram and I hope the other major platforms join in throwing out the dead wood with the new year.

Categories
Blogging

Thoughts on the State of Blogging at the End of 2014

Pam Mandel recently posted on Facebook and her blog about the state of blogging.

I’ve honestly been trying to stay out of discussions of blogging, but I figured I’d write a rambling post giving some of my thoughts rather than writing a long rambling comment addressing some of the issues which were brought up. This isn’t going to be a single coherent article so much as it will be addressing many of the various topic which were brought up.


Most Blogs Suck

Yes, most blogs suck.

Most musicians suck. Most actors suck. Most athletes suck. Most artists suck. Most cooks suck. Most writers suck. Most photographers suck.

Blogging is no different than any other human endeavor. Anyone can pick up an instrument, sing or play sports. The vast, vast majority of people who engage in these activities do so out of enjoyment and for recreation. Of all the people who play guitar, play football, cook or sing, only a small number are able to make a living doing it. Of those, only very small number are able to be truly successful at it.

Even players who make it to the NFL, most only play for 3 years or less and are bankrupt within 3 more years of leaving the league. They have nothing to show for being a pro athlete once it is all over.

Most people who make money playing music are performing at bars or weddings, not selling out stadiums. Most pro travel photographers are shooting weddings, senior portraits or pictures of babies at the mall. They are solid, journeyman professionals who aren’t getting rich, but are making a career in their chosen field.

It shouldn’t come as a shock that blogging follows the same pattern. There is a huge group of people who just have a website for fun or as a hobby. There is a smaller group of people who try to make money at it, and they primarily make money selling links and sponsored posts. They are like the bands who play at weddings and bars. They might make a living, but they aren’t Bruce Springsteen or Madonna either.

When we talk about blogging, we have to put it into the same context as everything else humans do. It really isn’t any different when you look at it in the big picture.

What we don’t know is the denominator for any of the things I listed above, including blogging. How many blogs are there? I dont’ know. How many cooks are there? How many football players are there? It all depends on how you choose define it.

Blogs Are Judged by the Worst, Print is Judged by the Best

There are a lot of hack writers out there. There always have been and there always will be. Yet when discussing journalism, everyone immediately points to Woodward and Bernstein (a 40 year old example) to show what journalism can be.

When talking about blogging, we tend to look at the worst.

Travel writer Paul Theroux said this about blogging:

I loathe blogs when I look at them. Blogs look to me illiterate, they look hasty, like someone babbling. To me writing is a considered act. It’s something which is a great labor of thought and consideration. A blog doesn’t seem to have any literary merit at all.

I wont bother to point out the lack of research and fact checking in a statement like that and just let it lie there like a statement by a drunk, racist uncle at Christmas.

Because there are no gatekeepers, anyone regardless of skill can start a blog. Hence, the quality of the average blogger is going to be much worse than the quality of the average writer who works for a publication. It will be that way forever.

When people criticize bloggers, they tend to do so with a very broad brush. (See Paul Theroux) There is very little recognition that there is good work happening online, or that being successful online requires a very different skill set than being successful working for a company.

Despite the fact that there are now bloggers with audiences larger than major magazines and newspapers, often much larger, we are still more often than not given a seat at the kids table.

Pay for Play

I have several thoughts about this:

1) With respect to free trips, I think most of the blame lies at the feet of the travel industry. They are giving trips to people who have only been blogging for a few months and/or have no real audience. I see this consistently. If someone is giving away free trips, I don’t fault the person who takes it so much as the person who gives it.

If there is a class of travel blogger which exists just to get free trips, it exists because the industry allows it to exist. They don’t do even basic due diligence and are not part of the discussion online. There are a few PR and marketing people out there who really seem to get it, and that is because they are active online and know what is going on. They, however, are a small minority.

2) Paid posts and constant promotion is a trap for bloggers. There are some bloggers who seem to never travel unless someone else is paying for it. Everything they do has an associated promotional hashtag associated with it. (In fact, I think a good litmus test of what travel bloggers to follow is to just look at how interesting they places they visit are) Ultimately, this is self defeating. I don’t think they have very strong followings, even if they do have twitter followers and get a fair amount of traffic from Google. Using my above analogy, they are the cover bands of travel blogging. You can eek out a living doing that, but I don’t think you are even going to make it really big if everything is promotion. No one is interested in it.

I’ve had travel bloggers flat out say that their ‘client’s are the people sending them on trips. That is an attitude that will get you nowhere. Your ‘clients’, if such a thing exists, are you audience. The destination is just helping you get content you can use to serve your audience.

3) I have yet to hear an economic model for travel media that doesn’t involve working for the New York Times or Conde Nast. Travel is unique in that the product is expensive and you can’t return it. Automotive writers don’t buy a new car for every article they write, but they also can give the car back when they’re done. Can’t do that with a trip.

The major outlets for travel writing do not pay anywhere near enough to cover the cost of a trip. Even if you spin trip into multiple articles for different outlets, you are still just barely covering your costs, and that is assuming you can even find those outlets. Given that publications are paying less and there are fewer outlets available, it is becoming harder to do.

It is an open secret that stories from sponsored trips make it into publications that prohibit such trips. It happens all the time. The attitude seems to be “don’t ask, don’t tell”, because if the publications really clamped down, the pool of writers and articles they could select from would be significantly smaller. Their ethics are for show, and not taken seriously.

4) If you look at blogging as part of the world of travel media, I’m not sure they really warrant special scorn. In private discussions I’ve had with veteran members of SATW, almost every person has stories of how advertisers have influenced editorial decisions.

The Blog Is Becoming Less Important

Robert Scoble is pretty influential in technology circles. He has posted on his blog three times this year, most recently to say he isn’t going to publish anything on his blog anymore.

Most of my engagement is now on Facebook and other social media platforms. If I write an article, I’ll get more comments from the link on Facebook than I will in WordPress. The vast majority of the engagement I get on a daily basis does not occur on my website. That isn’t where the people are.

In theory, I could delete my blog and still make a living doing what I’m doing. (not that I’m going to do that).

Too many bloggers can’t think beyond the blog. They are fixated on page views and SEO and ignore the bigger picture.

Influence

Here is my litmus test for influence: how many people can you get to come and see you in person if you are in their town? This isn’t really a metric you can track, but there is a lot of truth behind it.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that I always have readers who come out to see me, have a meal or drinks. I’ve had people drive over 100 miles to meet me. I’ve had people take time off work to come see me. I’m really honored when people take the time to do that. I know I’m making some sort of impact.

That being said, I don’t see many other travel bloggers meeting up with readers. The reason is that they don’t have any. Most of the people who actually follow them are other bloggers. Most of their traffic is one-off traffic from Google or StumbleUpon, that will never return again. Some of those people might become your audience, but audience and traffic are not the same thing. (I’m not saying there is no value in search traffic. There can be if your business model is structured around it. Mine isn’t. Nonetheless, if Google wanted to double the traffic they sent my way, I’d gladly take it, I just don’t think it will do much for me.)

We tend to use the term “influencer” for anyone who has a website, and that really isn’t the case. I don’t think there is a black and white definition for influencer, but the term is overused. Influence is on a gradient and is dependent on subject matter. I am not influential about automobiles, but I know some people pay attention to me about travel and photography.


I don’t write a lot about blogging anymore, because I’ve found worrying about the industry as a whole to be a waste of my time. I can’t control what other people do, and most people will never follow my advice. I’ve been focusing more on what I do and pretty much ignoring the blogosphere as an entity.

Things have never been better for me professionally than they are right now, and I know many successful bloggers who say the same thing. The 8 years of work I put into this are paying off.