Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics (or putting your stats in context)

2018-10-07T22:35:19+00:00An Artist's Life|7 Comments

Yes, I know that the title of this blog post is not going to get me any Google ranking or search engine traffic. I went to that webinar.

But people search for things like tutorials on “can I dye a towel with food coloring?” and “reviews of babylock sewing machines”. (The answers are “no” and “Mine was a lemon” if you got here from Google. Welcome.) So I am not sure that search engine optimization is what this post really needs.

I was looking at stats and search terms the other day. Everything gives you stats now, whether you want them or not. How many people like your post? How many people visit your page? How many people engage with your photo? I am not sure what I was looking for really, but I noticed that everything is down right now compared to last year. Etsy shop sales are down 22%. My blog viewership is down 25%. I posted a picture on instagram and Facebook yesterday of a piece of mine that I am really proud of and only 42 people have so far reacted to it. (About 4% of my audience at those two venues) The thing I shared about someone else’s machine knitted star map has more than double that. My newsletter subscribers have remained pretty steady, but it’s still only about 49% of subscribers that even open the email I send. I didn’t even send one out in August. That makes a real dent in your stats. Sigh.

And then I was reading a post in a forum about marketing and market testing to your Facebook followers. It’s a craft business group I belong to and often it has great questions and advice from members. Someone asked a question about using Facebook groups and the only people who chimed in responded with stories about how it was so easy to just market directly to their 12,000 or 18,000 member Facebook group followers and make XYZ happen. “A breeze” “So manageable” “Low effort”.  I almost just quit the group right then. I am sure it is easy to market something when you have an audience of 18,000. I have 500. That’s not just unrelatable; that’s a different planet.

(Edited to add: I wanted to add a comment here and say how much I love all of my FB, IG and newsletter communities. You all comment and respond to my newsletter emails and I get to have real conversations with you. I LOVE THAT. I don’t have fake followers, I have real wonderful interesting people who talk to me and ask questions. I just want to keep making sure that people like you are finding and connecting with me.)

I am not looking for pity party or a pep talk, don’t worry. I’m writing about all of this because I know far more artists and I teach so many beginner classes to people whose stats look a whole lot more like mine than they do the “experts” that were chiming in on that Facebook post. And nobody talks to that group; the group you and I belong to. I spent part of the summer trying to take some classes. I don’t have a boss to send me to professional development workshops, so I sent myself. I did a couple of webinars about search engine optimization. I worked through a whole facebook/instagram advertising tutorial (oh my gosh that is complicated). I learned some new things about Google Analytics. I joined a weekly SEO seminar. The problem with all of these is that they were either aimed at total beginners (ie I just started my Instagram account 5 minutes ago) or they talked about all of the cool things you can do when you have 1,000 or 10,000 followers on XYZ platform. I am in neither of those groups.

At first I looked at those stats and thought, I am totally failing. How is everything down when I am doing all the things?! Why can I not get to the magic numbers that unlock the cool stuff like the people on that forum?

That’s the problem with statistics. All of the numbers. None of the context.

After I felt sorry for myself, I stepped back and looked at the stats a little more. Surely I could find some useful information here. They always provide nice charts and I can see where the line dipped down: May.

A few things happened in May. I joined the executive committee of a board of directors for a non-profit. I was already on the executive committee of another board of directors. Some things happened. The who, what and why of those isn’t important to this discussion. But the me part of it is very relevant. Because I suddenly found myself with two other part-time jobs without really acknowledging that to myself. Sometimes that’s what happens with volunteer gigs. I had a lot of new meetings and new things to read and research. I had things to think about and things that made me frustrated and distracted. I was doing a lot of work. Just somewhere else.

I don’t have anything bad to say about either of these groups. On the contrary. I would only do the kind of work that I do for them because I love the organizations and I believe that non-profit staff and public school teachers have the hardest working and most under recognized staff members in the business. I will do anything I can to support them because that’s my way of giving back. I’m not good at lobbying or protesting, but I am good at this.

“That’s how we’re gonna win. Not fighting what we hate, saving what we love.” — Rose Tico, The Last Jedi

So when I thought about those stats a little more, I realized that I was lying to myself a little bit. I was still doing all the stuff. I just wasn’t doing all the stuff the way I thought I was.

I was still publishing blog posts this year, but I have only posted about 20. Last year was double that. On Instagram I was posting about once a day at the beginning of the year, and now it’s about twice a week. On a good week. Maybe. Facebook is just mystifying. Yesterday it told me that my post had 0 views and 0 engagements but 8 people had liked the post (which means that they both saw and engaged with it). So I am not even sure what to make of that information (or any of the historical data). I am actually being really consistent about posting my Spoonflower design challenge entries (I have participated for 38 weeks in a row so far this year), but there isn’t a lot of variety in those posts. If you aren’t interested in those, there isn’t a lot else for you showing up in my feed. I posted a few more updates and renewals and new stuff every month in my Etsy shop last year. Long story short was that last year I was doing it too, just more of it.

So here is my lesson for you, those of us not in the 10,000 Followers Club. Consistency is important for momentum.

I can see the stats drop off when I know, due to other circumstances in my life, that I was busy and not able to put the attention in to these platforms. The audience that I was building has wandered away a little bit. And I can see it in the numbers. It makes me feel a little better to put some context to those numbers. My views are down because there was substantially less to view. I can wrap my head around that.

So what to do about that? I think understanding and taking some time to think about it is the important part. I am not able to keep up right now with where I want to be. Maybe I need to change some priorities or set some boundaries. I’ve been thinking about limiting some of those volunteer things to just 1 day a week as much as possible. Maybe I just needed a reminder. Hey, you wanted to do this and it’s important to you so don’t put it off. I don’t know the answer yet. But at least I have a better idea of the problem I want to solve. Maybe I need to start just capturing some statistics of my own. How many hours a day am I spending doing this volunteer stuff? Today it was about 4 1/2 hours. Which is why I am posting this at 8:30 pm on a Friday night. Which I am pretty sure that webinar said was the least ideal time to post something. (You can’t win them all.)

7 Comments

  1. Wendy bennett October 6, 2018 at 8:18 pm

    Its all becoming so complicated, and its such a do it yourself world now. Nothing is simple any more. Very frustrating. My instagram hasn’t increased in followers for a year or so, not that it was my aim to have followers. It just makes me wonder how all these people have thousands of followers. Not too worry, better to have quality folowers than quantity! Always enjoy you posts Becka.

  2. beckarahn October 6, 2018 at 8:19 pm

    I agree. I would rather have 500 real followers than 10,000 fake ones for sure! Thanks for being one of the real ones.

  3. Andrea October 7, 2018 at 7:13 am

    Becka, I’m feeling a bit down about my numbers, too. I’d love to know if your readers/followers are your paying customers and your main source of income. If not, and you’re doing all the things and doing them consistently — then you’re giving your audience added service. You are serving them. And that’s what marketing is — building relationships! I admire you and your work, your volume of work! It’s amazing!

  4. Abby Glassenberg October 7, 2018 at 8:34 am

    I think something that can make a big difference is landing on a product that has truly mass appeal. Its very hard to predict or to make it happen on purpose, but when it truly happens everything changes and fast. That one success catapults you forward and brings your business into the public eye.

  5. beckarahn October 7, 2018 at 8:52 am

    Andrea: They are everybody: students, potential students, people who saw me at a show or exhibition or conference, colleagues, people who just saw my work somewhere and were curious, Etsy customers, Spoonflower customer/fans. They come from everywhere. Art is my main source of income, but the ways that my readers/followers support that is very diverse (and includes a lot of people who aren’t on those lists.) That’s kind of an interesting thing to think about – I think many of those “marketing experts” are building a very different audience than mine.

    Abby: I get that absolutely. I don’t think what I do is a “mass appeal” kind of thing. I know when I am teaching classes, there is a magic number where you have just the right number of students that it sparks conversation, people share and help each other and ask deeper questions. The class becomes not me teaching you, but me leading the group that’s exploring something together. I’m not really interested in a product going viral (not that it wouldn’t be nice), but more of that community building/conversation and drawing more people in to those kinds of interactions. People who interact not because I am selling them something and they are looking for a coupon, but because they value the experience. I keep doing things (like writing a book) that I think will be the thing that will help build some audience momentum and see no effect. It’s discouraging. That definitely needs more thought.

  6. Anne Schuster October 14, 2018 at 2:43 pm

    I am just getting to read this now and I want to say a few things:
    1) This post made me feel so much better about my declining and “failing” numbers too. I feel EXACTLY like you described – defeated and wondering why I should/do care about all the metrics
    2) I FIND YOUR VOICE SO TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY REAL. I love how 100% candid you are. I wish leaders in every domain in my life were as straight-forward and no-nonsense as you are. No drama – just great commentary, great art and useful facts.
    3) This reader really, really values every word write and picture you post and every creation you create. I agree with the handwritten note – SO lucky to have you.

  7. beckarahn October 14, 2018 at 4:04 pm

    Anne, I am lucky to have you. And I wish you were closer than Colorado so we could have coffee on a regular basis. Thank you.

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