The Dark Side of Metrics–Writer Friend or Ticket to Crazy Town?

Last week, we talked about the bright side of using metrics. Writers tend to go pale and look for the scotch when someone mentions analytics. Yet, if we don’t ever look to a standard of measure, then we can float around aimlessly, wasting valuable time on busy-work. We have better things to do than focus on meaningless statistics…like, um, write great books.

Metrics–Helpful Ally or One-Way Ticket to Crazy Town?

Yet, as amazing as social media might be, it presents a a sticky problem…there is no way to accurately measure social marketing. Last week, I mentioned Klout and Jami Gold brilliantly pointed out that it’s measurement rests on game theory. For those of you who have slept since your last economics class:

Game theory is a mathematical method for analyzing calculated circumstances (games) where a person’s success is based upon the choices of others.[1Game theory has been used to study a wide variety of human and animal behaviors. It was initially developed in economics to understand a large collection of economic behaviors, including behaviors of firms, markets, and consumers. The use of game theory in the social sciences has expanded, and game theory has been applied to political, sociological, and psychological behaviors as well. (per Wikipedia).

Since animals and humans are complex, the decisions and results of those decisions are complex as well. Game theory is merely a mathematical model that helps glean a “good idea” of what had an effect where. Thus, if there is an uprising in Egypt, analysts have a way of making “good guesses” what will happen when and where and how. If the financial market in Greece is unstable, economists can discern what moves have a better chance of helping the Greeks recover, versus helping them head-first over a financial cliff.

But, at the end of the day, this is all game theory has to offer…a good idea. A guestimation. A die-hard…maybe.

Just a Maybe, Baby

Traditional publishing has many traditional habits. They looooove metrics because it does give a sense of power and control. We can look at a web site and see how many unique visitors we are getting and when they stop clicking and move on to go look at Internet porn instead of our latest cookbook. We can see where we get most of the site’s traffic.

Is that ad we paid for getting anyone to stop long enough to take a look? Better yet, how many are taking a look? And how many are BUYING? And, if sales jumped up in the last quarter, what did we do differently? Can we model this elsewhere?

Metrics can be very handy this way. Ahhhh, but social media (Klout included) is not as neat and clean as “how many clicks is the ad getting us?”  Thus, what can happen is we start treating social media the same as we would a metric that measures how many people clicked to BUY on our book widget.

The number of friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter are virtually meaningless numbers out of context, and Klout is a “good guess of influence” not a biblical truth.

A Slave to the Numbers

Thus, what can happen, even with Klout, is that we start paying more attention to the numbers than to the behaviors that really matter. Social media cannot be measured like a static web site. Thus, fretting over “how many friends” or “how many followers” we have is just a good way to get an eye twitch. When we hover over the numbers like a Jewish grandma, we risk losing sight of the real priority.

There are a lot of writers on social media who are working hard to build a brand and an author platform. This, to me, is WONDERFUL news. But there is a dark side.

Unless vigilant, writers can easily get too fixed on the social platform and forget what the platform is being built to support….finished books/our career as authors. We don’t have an author career to support if we don’t have lots of awesome finished books to SELL. Yesterday, Rachelle Gardner touched on this subject in her post. And, after some time to mull over her points. I do think we are saying a lot of the same things.

Many writers are worrying about creating a brand ahead of time. Yet, we can never fully be an author brand until we have good books to sell.

As a social media expert, I cannot make you an author brand. Don’t trust ANY social media expert who claims she can make you an author brand. Only YOU can make yourselves a brand.

What I am here to help writers do, is to lay the foundation and the support beams to eventually become an author brand. Using our NAMES instead of @BookDiva is like laying rebar to support the finished brand. Rebar is only a part of a building, much like our names, our social media activity and our blogs are only part of a finished brand. I am here to help you guys lay the correct foundation from the wisest, most cost-effective (time) materials. But I can only help with the foundation and framing. The finished product is all up to you as writers.

If we stop at rebar, concrete and support beams, we don’t have a building. We have an unfinished mess that is only useful for racoon habitats and a hangout for homeless people and underage drinking. Agents are like real estate agents and we are the contractors. We (writers) build the structures that agents sell (our books/us). Yet what are we asking them to put on the market?

Where I think agents are getting frustrated is that many writers, eager to be successful responsible professionals, are using social media. Yet, instead of focusing on the final product–fantastic books supported by a solid author platform–many writers are getting fixated on the rebar and concrete, and agents can’t sell that. They are in the business of selling finished structures.

When we become a slave to the numbers, we lose out BIG. Why? We lose sight of the big picture. Yes, having a successful blog will likely help with book sales. But staring at the blog numbers, and changing behavior every time there is a hiccup can get us scope-locked on the wrong thing. We start adjusting behavior to skew the numbers in our favor, and, to the extreme, we become no better than the monkey wearing out a lever to get a banana dropped from the ceiling.

Keeping Perspective

I still think Klout is very useful. Klout measures things that matter in social media. For instance, it measures if people are reposting our content, and, if so, how far is it traveling? Thus, the higher the Klout score, the more influence we are exerting. If we are having an influence on others, then it is safe to say we have a good chance of generating word-of-mouth for us and our books. Thus, if we are on Twitter and Facebook and our Klout score is 25, then we have a problem, and, yes, we need to modify our behavior.

Maybe we need to spend more time on Twitter. Checking in once a week isn’t enough. Perhaps we need to get better at sharing with others, talking to others and perhaps we need to look at WHAT we are posting/tweeting. If no one is finding enough value to pass on our message, we should take a look at what we are serving. Those are good modifications to behavior anyway. If our Klout score is in the toilet, then it shows us that we really are wasting time on social media. Thus, if we don’t change some things, it is best not to be on Twitter at all.

What is Enough?

Creating an author platform is a lot like losing weight and getting in shape. We need goals and we need to push ourselves. Yet, it is psychologically unhealthy to get on the scale every hour on the hour or take our measurements three times a day. It is also doing more harm than good if we are in the gym six hours a day. Balance is key.

As writers, our priority ALWAYS needs to be the book. But the platform is the foundation that will support our success. So my tips to make you successful and keep you sane:

Ignore the number of followers and friends.

I never look at mine unless I have to tell someone the current number. Be kind, supportive and authentic and trust people will respond favorably.

Ignore minor deviations.

I don’t pay attention if someone unfollows me. If they don’t want to hang out with me, their loss. As far as the blog, I check in throughout the day, mainly because I am approving comments and I happen to see them on the dashboard.

Only pay attention to monthly or quarterly numbers on the blog.

I only pay attention to the monthly numbers and, even then, I make no changes unless I see a decline lasting more than three months. There are other influences that can affect the hits. For instance, back in May when Osama bin Laden was apprehended and killed, my blog TANKED. People also apparently cared more about the MASSIVE earthquake in Japan than my witty repartee. Imagine that.

Numbers-wise? May was a HORRIBLE month. But if I was a slave to the numbers, I would have been running scared and changing my blog format and topics. Stuff happens. Keep an eye on the big picture.

We don’t need celebrity Klout (especially fiction authors).

Yes, Snookie got a book deal. I have no explanation for that other than the world is supposed to end in 2012 and perhaps that’s a sign.

If you are a non-fiction author, work to get that number up there, but again, just check in periodically. You just need a ballpark range, and, if you want to publish NF and your Klout score is the same as your mother who can’t work the Internet…then get to work.

Fiction authors? Just look to make sure you are engaging and influencing. If you are taking the time to be on social media, then just make sure it isn’t a total waste of time. If an agent expects you to have the same Klout as Justin Bieber, then maybe look for another agent. Her focus needs to be on the quality of your fiction, and, if she is a slave to the numbers, then that will likely trickle down and affect your career and creativity in a negative way.

Klout is a Best Guess, Not the Bible

Yes, people can manipulate the numbers. But people who use tricks to manipulate numbers that don’t reflect a reality only hurt themselves. Don’t worry about them, just focus on YOU.

At the end of the day, HAVE FUN!!!! Finish the book and write the best book ever written. Then use social media to create a support network of awesome people vested in your success. They hang out at #MyWANA if you haven’t been by.

So what are your fears? Concerns? Do you feel better?

I do want to hear from you guys!

And to prove it and show my love, for the month of October, everyone who leaves a comment I will put your name in a hat. If you comment and link back to my blog on your blog, you get your name in the hat twice. If you leave a comment, and link back to my blog, and mention my book We Are Not Alone in your blog…you get your name in the hat THREE times. What do you win? The unvarnished truth from yours truly.

I will pick a winner every week for a critique of your first five pages. At the end of October I will pick a winner for the grand prize. A free critique from me on the first 15 pages of your novel. Good luck!

I also hope you pick up copies of my best-selling books We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer . Both books are ON SALE for $4.99!!!! And both are recommended by the hottest agents and biggest authors in th biz. My methods teach you how to make building your author platform FUN. Build a platform and still have time left.

This Week’s Mash-Up of Awesomeness

Some of you might not know, but on top of writing and teaching, I am also running for Vice President of the Unites States of America. I am part of the Piper/Lamb 2012 Ticket–Finally a Pair in the White House.

Follow the campaign at Piper Bayard’s blog. This week, our solution to Health Care. Granny Care–Putting “Care” Back in Health Care

25 Reasons You Won’t Finish That Story by the HILARIOUS Chuck Wendig

Six Prescriptions to Cure the Heartbreak of Being Published by Ruth Harris via Anne R. Allen

How to Get Guest Posts on Big Name Blogs and Land Dynamite Interviews   over at Writer Unboxed

Hands-Free Drink Holder–SHUT the Front Door! by Natalie Hartford

The Undie Chronicles–THUNDERWEAR by the hilarious Jenny Hansen

Why is Your Klout Score Important? by Lauren Dugan

Are Blog Tours Really Worth It? by Jody Hedlund

Healthy, Wealthy and Wise–Lessons from Steve Jobs by Diane Capri

Wagons, Ho! On the Trail with Jody Hedlund Help Bridgette Booth (an amazing woman, person and writer) for a good cause.


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  1. Great post Kristen! Analytics is one of my least favorite parts of my job in social media but that’s because numbers are my least favorite thing in the world.

    That being said, analytics are super important for growing a web/social presence on the web. They give important insights and as you suggest allow you to make sense of what you are doing online and the ROI for your time.


    Michael Girard
    Community Engagement, Radian6

  2. I find all the numbers and metrics confusing. The key is if you can find something that actually generates interest or sales. This past weekend at the Surrey Writers conference they mentioned that you can find how people come to your blog and that seems useful– it means you can target those launching places that draws traffic.
    As far as number of twitter followers or on Facebook, I’m not sure how important those are other than in a networking sense. As Kristen notes, we can drive ourselves crazy with this stuff.

  3. hey kristen… i’m in the contest !! 3x (bought your books based on recommendation from jillian dodd, always good to know referral source, huh!)

    …and im BUSTED BIG TIME for looking at my numbers too much, thanks for that heads up

    I purchased Kristen’s books, very good reads and advice that is CURRENT! (did I emphasize current?)

    We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer

    Her Blog –

  4. Appreciate the insight (or is it incite) re: the numbers game. I did check out Klout but honestly I don’t get it–and there’s not enough hours in the day as it is. So I plan to just keep on keeping on and finish the @#$%^! thriller. And the couple more nonfiction pet books. And and and…*smacks self*

    Coffee helps.

    1. Coffee DOES help. And I can’t wait to read your book. 🙂

    2. Great comment Amy!

      • Kathleen on October 27, 2011 at 10:32 am
      • Reply

      Coffee helps, so does dark chocolate. Especially with cherries in it 🙂

  5. Wow! Thanks for including my post on Steve Jobs in your Week of Awesomeness mash-up, Kristen. And thanks for the perspective on Klout and the writing world. Appreciate it muchly.

  6. Kristen has Clout (and Klout), check it out!

  7. OK, I feel so much better now. I was worried that I would need some great Klout score. I am just in the beginning stages of tweeting and figuring out what gets relpies and re-tweets. I write fiction, you just made me feel a lot better. I can focus more of my time on writing fiction, and blog and tweet for fun. Because that’s what I have discovered since I started my blog (2 weeks ago, short time I know). I really like writing the blog post. For now, that is enough for me. But, I am planning on checking my Klout score. I hope that the scores can’t go negetive!

  8. Just an aside: Klout released a new algorithm today, and many scores are way down. Check it out:

    1. Yeah, I saw that. More reason to take my own advice, LOL. Thanks! And I would rather have a more accurate picture anyway even if it stings.

    2. That news makes me feel a lot better! I checked mine, this morning, and it had dropped by 10 points?? Thanks for the link! ..:)

  9. Fantastic breakdown on what matters and what doesn’t! I had sort of signed up for Klout but then didn’t really get it and so I’ve ignored it ever since. With your explanation, I’m going to go give it another go and see if I can’t make sense of it. But in the end, I know I speak for everyone when I say we really appreciate your knowledge and experience because it alleviates a lot of stress and angst.
    And….of course THANK YOU for the FABULOUS shout out – much appreciated!! 🙂

  10. Awesome post Kristen. I have to say I feel like the odd one out on here. I have a squillion little stories all at different stages or (a lot of them in the bin). I have picture books about to be ready that I’ve been working for probably longer than most novels. I spent a year correcting the meter on an experiment novel in rhyming verse and then wrote it in prose and it’s still in the bin. I ought to be further on in the publishing queue than I am, and if I was then all this social media would be perfectly at the right time, but you just don’t know when your writing is going to sell. I guess I would just direct newbies to you so they don’t go across all platforms and learn from the off how to work smart. I’m not obsessed with numbers mainly cause I suck at math 🙂 I’ve also noticed that a different approach on each social medium is important. You can’t act the same on Twitter as Facebook or your blog. You can slowly expand your numbers on your blog from having people tweet your posts but I believe you get way better stickiness from blog fests and loyalty and genuineness than anything Twitter-related by blogfests. I also love the fact that each #mywana person has totally separate followers so your potential reach by supporting each other is huge. And that’s all thanks to you Kristen 🙂

  11. Almost lost a keyboard there, drinking coffee while reading “Yes, Snookie got a book deal. I have no explanation for that other than the world is supposed to end in 2012 and perhaps that’s a sign.” If the Mayans could foresee Snooki, maybe they *did* have a handle on things.

    Now I’m scared to check my Klout score. Not only have I been wasting time doing revisions on my next book instead of tweeting, but I may be a victim of the changeable algorithms Fabio is talking about. Maybe I just won’t check until I’ve had some of that scotch.

    1. I wouldn’t worry about it too much. For fiction authors, just look to make sure you have a social media pulse, LOL. If you have time to get a better score, rock on, but the book is paramount. For NF authors, our books are an extension of the real product–us as experts. Our process is the reverse of fiction authors. We have to prove enough people care what we have to say before we write the book.

      1. Going off on tangents here. If we mainly write silly things, are we given more slack for being silly? *fingers crossed*. Silly yet professional *cough*

        1. Catherine – I sure hope so. I write NF/humor that’s pretty out there. ..LOL

        2. I dig silly *shrugs*

        3. As a non-fiction AND fiction writer…I really appreciate this question! I like silly too (as if you couldn’t tell by my THUNDERWEAR post)…

          1. Yay, we’re both waiting with bad breath lol 😉

  12. Thanks, Kristen, I think I like your blog and books because of your focus on relationships. Keeping them primary!

  13. A couple of days ago my head hurt with all the posts about numbers. Today I feel much better and you’ve helped take the confusion away.

    Thanks to your post and poster comments I’m buying your books and so glad We Are Not Alone and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer are on sale (a bargain!) and on Kindle.

  14. I’m guessing there’s only one absolute number that will track your career path. How many books are you selling. For me. 0. I’ve not published yet. Workin’ on that though.

    And there’s probably another number that’s important to many writers. How many people are reading your stuff. I’ve had a handful, but they have clout (as professional authors), so I feel pretty good about that.

    Other than that, I’m currently addicted to watching my Klout score, and how it seems to wiggle around for no apparent reason. That and the traffic sources for my blog.

  15. Great point, Kristen. Watching those numbers will definitely make you crazy. I try to ignore the daily bumps, both the good ones and the dips. As long as the overall picture is one of growth over time, that’s what matters. Thanks for the shout out. You’re an awesome space saving running mate. 🙂

  16. Can’t WAIT to run over and read Piper’s healthcare post, and I’ve had a great time tromping through your comments section. I loved this post – thanks for making me feel better about both the fiction AND the non-fiction sides of my life. 🙂

    And I had a “Shut the front door!” moment myself to get all CAPS “hilarious” just like Chuck Wendig (who gives me Fan Girl moments ALL THE TIME). Thanks for the shout out…I’m trying to decide whether I have one more edition of the “Undie Chronicles” in me or if I should stop with Thunderwear…

    p.s. Can you tell I’ve had lots of Amy’s coffee today??

  17. I just signed up for Klout and check my score. 27, so basically you were talking about me in the post. So, how do I imrove my score while still having time to write fiction? Apparently the only area I have influence in is movies (I think I commented on one movie review blog). I don’t want to waste my time, but am not what I should be doing differently?

    1. Hang out in #MyWANA and it will go up pretty quickly because you will be engaged with a community. And I said “25” before I knew they started a new algorithm that dropped everyone’s score.

  18. Refuse to obsess over numbers – that’s what I do in my day job.

    Besides which, I am not entirely certain Klout is not huffing on a crack pipe. When last I checked, Klout gleefully informed me I was quite influential re: a certain celebrity-flavored religion (*cough John Travolta*) which I have NEVER named, nor blogged or Tweeted about, nor ever discussed on any forum that I can recall. Nor do I blog or Tweet about religion (or celebrities) much in general.

    Numbers can be helpful, but they can also, as you point out, be a ticket to crazy town.

  19. Great post, as usual and a reminder to focus on what we’re really here for – writing good books. Numbers can be alluring and become addictive. I have to force myself not to look at stats some days. All writers have to sort out how much time to devote to social media and I decided to spend a lot of time when my writing isn’t needing it and minimum to 0 time when I need to focus on my writing. At present, I’m waiting for beta readers to get back to me on my short story anthology and I’m ‘resting’ my novella ms, so I’m spending a lot of time on the net. As soon as I get the feedback in though, I’ll be focusing on writing again. When writing a first draft I often only go online every second day. We can’t let it rule our lives, though some days I feel like it has.

  20. Perfect timing for this post with the scores all going down (which is the direct opposite of what Klout said would happen.) Just confirms that the folks you meet and the way you interact with them is what really counts.

  21. Since you’ve mentioned Klout several times, perhaps you can explain the +K (or is it K+) thing with Klout. What does that mean exactly? Is it worth tracking? Is it worth giving a + to others? Any thoughts?

    Thanks for your insight with all of this!

  22. Hi, Kristen, thanks for putting things in perspective. For me, the best part of being in social media is the connections we make–the human connections. If they end up benefitting our careers, all the better.

  23. So, 7 is not a good Klout score?…………

    Great post, I’m just kicking around w/ a social blog so I really don’t follow analytics or metrics. One of these days if it becomes important to me, I know where to get the info.

  24. Thank you- finding balance between social media, writing, and all the other crap I have to do is overwhelming. My new rule- I must make my word count before I go onto the interwebs. Knowing what to look for and what to focus on helps a lot.

    1. I’m struggling to enforce your same rule for myself: get my writing done before I go play with social media. I get sucked into other people’s blogs so easily!

  25. Love your words, so helpful and spoken with such authentic plain-here’s-what-it-is prose. I like that.

    And thank you for commenting on my Writing Adventure post. It was a great trip!

  26. I added Klout. I’ve decided to only look at it once a month. That will be enough to see if I’m on a trend or not. I’m not sure if it’s that important, but I like the numbers! I love looking at my blog and seeing each month going up a tiny bit higher than the last. Don’t ask me how dark I’ll feel when they drop down. And as for the analytics? I know I’m not using them in a useful manner. But its on the list!

  27. Great post, Kristen! I agree with everything here.

    Klout can certainly give us a ballpark to tell us if we’re wasting our time with our current approach to social media or not. But as you said, people shouldn’t be obsessing over each tiny tic of the numbers.

    In the big picture, there’s probably no difference between a 45 score and a 55 score. They’re both better than average and below the celebrity level. 🙂 As you said, as long as we have a decent pulse, we’re fine.

    And thanks for the link! 🙂

  28. Oh, Kristen. This one is getting printed to read and re-read. I really like the 5% idea applied to this, and I love the list laying out how much of this process is up to me. Nice to hear positive get-to-work encouragement instead of the your-chances-are-so-slim feelings I usually get. Somehow I hear Nemo’s Dora in my mind: Just keep swimming, just keep swimming. I tend to use the how-to-eat-an-elephant analogy instead of the oil barrels, but the idea is the same.

    I linked to this post in my blog, AND mentioned your book. And your awesomeness!

    Thanks for all the wana1011 help.

  29. Hahaha: “Yes, Snookie got a book deal. I have no explanation for that other than the world is supposed to end in 2012 and perhaps that’s a sign.”

    I’m dying right now.

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