Statistics, The Curse of Social Networking

Everywhere you go these days the unending varieties of social networking sites provide an equally unending stream of information. And the stats to go with them.

It’s all too easy to get obsessed by statistics. You start out with your very first page. The site very helpfully provides information about how your page is doing, how many people have visited, how many have left comments or liked your page. Instant feedback. How nice! And at first it’s fun. Look! We had ten visitors! Ten! Isn’t that amazing? Ten more people now know about us! (And then you learn that the ten were your parents, siblings and a cousin, the one you can’t stand.)

You then begin to worry. Why only ten? We have to do better. You scan other pages, looking at the hundreds and thousands of fans and comments they have. How in the world does L.L. Bean do it? What does Madonna have that we don’t? Gee, Stephen King only has to write the first few pages of a new novel and the world beats a path to his page. You read other blogs, trying to fathom the mysterious secret, the magic combination that sets them apart and earns them such avid readership.

Well, you decide, if they can do it so can we. You try to determine how to get the most hits. What brings people to your page? What gets the most likes and comments? You experiment, try new things and often end up scratching your head at what works and what doesn’t. (Like the time we simply could not think of anything to blog about so we quickly wrote a spoof of A Visit from St. Nicholas which we called Twas the Night We Were Blogging. It has been our most popular blog to date. Go figure!)

Soon you are checking your stats daily. Are they up? Hooray! Down? Oh, no! Unchanged? WHY? Is the darn site glitching again? You start questioning yourself. Wondering. Worrying. Trying to come up with something new, something entertaining, something… Well, if we knew what the magical something was, we’d do it! And you still keep anxiously watching those stats.

It is not long before you are sneaking peeks at your stats a few times a day. Just a quick look. Just want to see if we’re doing better/worse/the same than we were this morning/this afternoon/this evening/ten minutes ago. Any new fans on Facebook? 55? Yea! We got a new one. You dance an Irish jig around the office until your significant other comes in and says that you already had 55 fans. You insist it was only 54. And you spend the next half hour arguing over that one fan, who is probably your cousin, the one you dislike.

Book sales are the worse type of all the stats. The figures change hourly. You can be selling in the top 2% one hour and drop down to 10% in the next. It’s worse than watching the stock market and just as unpredictable. When your sales are soaring you wonder (amid the cheering and fist-pumping) just why the world has suddenly flocked to your book. Was it the blog? Did they see the trailer on youtube? Perhaps it was the promotion on Goodreads? Just what in the world did we do to make this happen and how can we keep doing it? Unfortunately, when sales are dropping, you wonder the same things, in reverse. Didn’t anyone read the bog? Can’t they find the trailer on youtube? Is the Goodreads promotion just not enough? What in the world did we do to make this happen and how can we stop doing it?

Statistics obsession eventually reaches a peak. After the roller coaster of ups and downs, you chill out, knowing that your rankings can and will change at the drop of a hat for reasons unknown. It could be the phase of the moon. Or the stars might not be in the right position. Or perhaps your cousin, the one you dislike, has a big mouth and a lot of friends, which, for once, has worked to your advantage. Or maybe, just maybe, it was that last blog/Facebook post/book trailer/promotion that did it this time. Hmm. Perhaps we should check those stats again and try to figure it out…

About jmdattilo

J.M. Dattilo is our pen name. We are the authors of the Time's Edge sci-fi/fantasy series.

Posted on February 20, 2011, in Authors, Writing and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I am guilty of this! I check my stats here on wordpress daily. If they are increased I’m excited. They’re usually low so it’s fun to see if I’d have one or two additional visitors.
    It does get you hooked.

  2. I don’t check blog statistics–I know I don’t have any readers ;-)–but every time I open up my cart in Amazon, it tells me about all the price changes to the items in my cart and wish list. I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to it until one day, when I noticed that a couple of items had gone up or down by a penny. One cent. What on earth could cause that? Somewhere in the food chain, whether it’s Amazon, or the publisher, or somewhere else, has a very precise–but possibly not accurate–idea of how popular a particular title is on a particular day. I finally concluded that it’s all just statistical noise, insignificant in the long term.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statistical_noise

    • Hey, Sharon we just checked out your blog. High Flight is a great tribute to our fallen astronauts! And good for you for seizing the freedom to blog without the stats obsession! We keep saying we will and then… 🙂

  3. Have a statistics obsession myself. Maybe I’ll try going cold turkey to beat it!(Hah!)

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