To Hype or Not to Hype?

Like many bloggers on this site, I have set up my WordPress account to send a tweet every time I publish a new post. I did have it set up to post to Facebook too, but that mechanism seems no longer to work so I usually post my offerings there by hand. I joined Google+ some time ago, and did likewise, but found it to be a complete waste of time so haven’t logged on for months. Sometimes if a topic comes up that I’ve covered in an old post, I’ll tweet it again, but that’s the extent to which I “pimp” my blog.

However, I have noticed that over the last few months my Twitter feed is increasingly clogged up with multiple copies of blog advertisements from people I follow, often with requests like “Please Retweet”.  I have to say I don’t like this at all. It seems very tacky to me to be constantly screaming for attention in this manner. If people want to retweet or link to my posts then I’m very chuffed, of course, but I don’t think I’d feel the same way if I touted for traffic. Anyone who blogs already runs the risk of being labelled an attention-seeker. That doesn’t bother me, as in my case it’s probably true. But there are limits…

These thoughts came into my head when I stumbled across a couple of posts about self-promotion (here  and here). The author of the first item says:

Whenever I write a blogpost, the extent of my self-promotion is this: tweet my blog-link about 3 or 4 times in the same day it’s published…

I think even that is excessive. I’m very unlikely to read a blog post that’s been rammed down my neck on Twitter four times in a single day, very unlikely to retweet said link,  and indeed very unlikely to read anything further from an author who indulges in such a practice. Call me old-fashioned, but I struggle to keep up with Twitter anyway and I only follow about 100 people. I can do without this unseemly conduct. It’s nearly as bad as the “promoted tweets” (i.e. SPAM) that also plague the Twittersphere. More importantly, people don’t seem to realise that there is such a thing as too much publicity.

The answer is simple. Write interesting stuff, put it out there and people will be interested in it. It’s the same with scientific papers, actually. Write good papers and people will find them and cite them. Simples.

I realise my attitude in this regard is quite unusual and shaped by my own experiences and circumstances. I don’t make any money from this blog – it’s really more of a hobby than anything else – and I don’t particular care how many people read the items I post. If I did I wouldn’t put up things about Jazz or Poetry or Opera, as these have very little popular appeal. I just enjoy writing about such things, and sharing things I come across. I’m not denying that I like it when posts prove popular and/or provoke discussion, of course. But I don’t get upset when others sink without trace, as many do.

Moreover, having more blog hits isn’t going to advance my career one jot. Possibly quite the opposite, actually. I know there are plenty of important and influential people out there who think having a blog is some sort of aberration and in order to keep it going I must be neglecting my duties as an academic (which, incidentally, I don’t), so if anything it probably has a negative overall effect.

I realise that, as an amateur blogger, my attitudes are probably very different from the majority of those who actually earn money from this activity. The Guardian science bloggers, for example, get paid according to the number of page hits they generate. Unfortunately the result is that the Guardian itself repeatedly tweets links to every new post, as does every individual author. The resulting deluge of tedious advertising no doubt generates traffic that helps increase revenue, but its effect on me is that I no longer read any of the posts there.

There. I’ve said it. No doubt there’ll be angry reactions from fellow bloggers. If this post has offended anyone then I’m sorry, but  please remember to retweet it, share on Facebook, Google+, etc.

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38 Responses to “To Hype or Not to Hype?”

  1. Uh-oh. I think I may be a guilty party here…

    I don’t take the quite the same view and will tweet new blogposts a few times on the first day, largely because twitter is such an ephemeral medium so many people will miss any given tweet. I find I miss things from others at times. I also trust my followers to feel free to ignore anything that doesn’t pique their interest. Nevertheless, I take your point but I suspect many of us are still figuring out twitter, something that remains tricky since the dynamic is still evolving.

    As for the guardian science blogs, I guess i’m guilty there too. Jeez. We do get a cut of the advertising revenue but, speaking as one of the group of bloggers on Occam’s Corner, the amounts are pretty modest and for now will be used to pay the subs needed to run our original site at Occam’s typewriter. It’s not yet occurred to me to gear a blog-post for greater income. I suspect if I did so I would immediately lose whatever modicum of mojo I might possess and would rightly lose readers!

    It’s nevertheless true that blogging at a newspaper site does make you think about the content and the (likely) broader readership — something I mentioned in my contribution to the final SpotOn panel last Monday. However, although it does make you think of trying to be more newsy (picking up on themes that have been raised by recent news stories), to their credit, the Graun have given us completely free rein.

    • telescoper Says:

      That’s interestingly different from my experience with the Grauniad. I did put myself forward as a potential blogger, but subsequently withdrew when I learnt more about what they wanted. I have no regrets about that decision, but felt a bit disgruntled when they nicked the title I suggested…

      Incidentally, as a cheapskate, I use the bog standard free version of WordPress.

    • I’m with Stephen on this – I don’t have a problem with multiple Tweets about the same post. As well as the potential to miss interesting stuff the first time around, there are time zone issues too. Ed Yong gets it pretty spot on. It also helps to change the wording of the later tweet.

      That said, if someone else’s post is particularly good I will intentionally delay tweeting about it so that they wouldn’t have to tweet it later (if I remember, of course).

      And finally, “Please RT” is a surefire way to get me to not retweet something ;-)

  2. I think you probably notice this more as you don’t follow many people on Twitter – so you will notice repeat Tweets.

    When you follow over a certain number of people and only check Twitter once or twice a day, you simply cannot read every Tweet that has been sent since you last checked. When I check Twitter I will rarely see repeated blog pimping as I’ll only read the previous hour’s worth of Tweets.

    When you follow too many people to read your entire timeline, you end up treating Twitter more like walking into a pub, having a chat with whoever is about, and then leaving. You don’t try to catch up on every conversation that has happened since you last visited!

    • telescoper Says:

      That’s why I severely restrict the number of people I follow – I prefer to keep up with a few that interest me than be swamped by hundreds with the result that I miss almost everything unless it’s a repeat. Unfortunately it’s then like reading a book that repeats itself after every page.

  3. While we’re on the subject of self-promotion, will you be updating “A Very Short Introduction to Cosmology”? I hope so, it’s beautifully written.

    • telescoper Says:

      Thank you for your comment. The cheque is in the post.

      I don’t think OUP have any intention of doing new editions of the VSI series, which is a shame because the Cosmology one is definitely showing its age. They keep selling translation rights, however, so it continues to be a nice little earner..

  4. Guilty as charged! I tweet a blog post three times on two consecutive days. My blog and twitter following are spread out world wide and consists of some who only log on in the morning, some who only log on in the evening, some who only log on every couple of days etc. I regard multiple tweeting as a service to my potential readers.

    Having established that many of my followers don’t read twitter at the weekend I try to avoid posting new articles at the weekend.

    I write to be read. I don’t care how many people read my posts only that those who wish to do so are aware that there is something new for them to read.

    If you regard such behaviour as hyping or pimping then you obviously write for other reasons. Even if that is the case I shall continue to read your excellent posts.

    • telescoper Says:

      Your last paragraph seems rather self-contradictory to me.

      Anyway, I get about 1500 readers a day according to WordPress statistics. I don’t know whether that’s a lot for a blog or not.

  5. So, it would probably wrong of me to link to this post of mine that you might be interested in, pointed out that according to Google, astro-ph has the second-highest h-index of any “journal” in its Physics and Mathematics category.

  6. Hmm. Basically I agree with Stephen so won’t repeat that. The only thing I’d add is that I would feel guilty and exploited if the Guardian (which is at least supposed to be a commercial operation) *didn’t* pay us anything. I think that would potentially devalue the work of professional writers. We need good writing in general, and especially about science, from the outside as well as from the inside. It’s a delicate balance.

    Promotion I do for my blog, on twitter & elsewhere, is because I want people to read what I write, not for $$. I don’t do any more now than I did when I was on the freebie wordpress. Though obviously there are extra tweets from @GuardianScience these days.

    • telescoper Says:

      I never said there was anything wrong with getting paid. More power to your elbow, especially if it’s beer money. I just think it changes most bloggers’ attitudes to how many hits they get and the steps they will take to maximise them.

  7. In my defence, as the author of the first blogpost you linked to, and just so you understand; the reasons behind tweeting a link 3-4 times in one day is to consider the different timezones my followers live in (those I know of include US, Canada & Australia). I don’t think I need to explain to you how some may be asleep when I tweet during my morning commute, for example. Different times for different audiences, as has already be mentioned above. I get a buzz out of people reading my blogposts, so, agreeing with another point made above, I guess I kind of write to be read, too. We all have our own reasons for writing and we all have our reasons for sharing.

    People who follow as few people as you do will most likely see every tweet. I follow over 650 people and I’m lucky if I see a repeated tweet even once. It’s a shame but I’m OK with that because I hope that if something is interesting, I can rely on retweets, reposts or Ed Yong’s weekly “missing link” post. If you think twitter is just about reading everyone’s tweet (and just the once), then we have very different ideas about what we want to get out of it and it doesn’t surprise me you feel the way you do about seeing the same tweet more than once. That said, if I read a reposted tweet, I don’t get annoyed, I just scroll on. I think it’s a real shame that you’ve decided to boycott reading the Guardian posts just because they repost the same article. That’s just bizarre, in my opinion, as you’re missing out on some fascinating stuff. And for what? The upper hand? Doesn’t make sense, but that’s your choice. For me, Twitter is not like the game you describe, it’s there to learn from, to build up relationships and networks, to share passions like the things I write about, and hopefully get others interested in it, too.

    The whole point of my blogpost about self-promotion was to get other’s views on it after I heard people with successful and established readerships say it’s OK to tag influencers in your tweets and gear up the self-promo thing. I’ve never been that confident because I’m so nervous and awkward about it. If you get 1500 hits a day, then (as far as I can see) you don’t need to even worry about it, you seem to be doing pretty well without it anyway. It’s like a small corner shop trying to talk to a multi-billion supermarket about advertising for more customers….some shops just don’t have to.

    • telescoper Says:

      I think I use Twitter for exactly the same things you do, but I think we differ over the extent to which repeated tweets actually have a positive effect. I think excessive self-promotion just makes bloggers seem like desperate attention-seekers, and that puts me off. I don’t go and see films that get hyped either!

      I guess people do it because other people do it.

      If everyone follows so many people they can’t keep up, with the result that everyone tweets everything umpteen times the system will just be unusable.

      And I think I get more readers via RSS feeds etc anyway. If I wanted to read the Guardian science blogs, for example, I would look at the Guardian site rather than following a tweeted promo. And it’s not just for that reason that I don’t read the Guardian blogs any more. It’s because they don’t match my own interests very much (with a few exceptions).

      I don’t understand your comment about “the upper hand” at all. Please expand.

  8. It was more a question to you. It didn’t make sense why you would decide to stop reading the Guardian blogposts just because they reposted their articles, but now you have just added that you’re just not that interested in them anymore, and so I guess that answers my question there.

    We do differ in views over the whole reposting a tweet, that’s certain, especially how it doesn’t seem acceptable to you that most people who do this are just considering the different time zones of their followers. I see from your other replies that we have different views on more levels than just this one. Well, we can’t all expect to be the same.

    • Fair enough, but you still haven’t explained what you meant by “the upper hand”…

      I reckon that if what you write is good then you can rely on other people retweeting it to reach around the world, so perhaps the time zone thing is a red herring. I have followers in the USA, Canada, Australia, South America, Europe, India, South Africa and, of course, the Midlands.

  9. I’m a relatively new blogger and all of this is news to me! I only tweet blog posts once! I can understand two or three times the day it is published. If I followed you on Twitter and you did it much more than that I’d seriously consider unfollowing you unless your content was absolutely brilliant.

  10. Surely using RSS feeds for blogs one is interested in is much more efficient than following Twitter for new posts.

    • I would have thought so too, but it’s difficult for me to know the numbers. Apparently people reading via an RSS feed don’t count towards my wordpress stats.

      Yesterday I got 1352 views altogether (quiet as it was a Sunday). Of those, 632 were referred by links (mainly from search engines, but 91 from Twitter and 21 from Facebook). The other 720 presumably came from people who have it bookmarked or didn’t have to search for some other reason, e.g. they remembered the URL.

      How many RSS subscribers do I have? No idea!

      • At the end of the day, some web server is serving the pages to the viewer, however the viewer navigated to the page. So, even access via an RSS feed must produce some entry in a log file on the web server. (Of course, perhaps WordPress does not make this information available to bloggers.)

        I rarely read blog posts via a method other than RSS. If I occasionally run across one, usually it is so interesting that I subscribe via RSS (if this is not possible, I email the author and ask him to set up an RSS feed, which has happened a couple of times) or if not I never visit again. It might be that most of your views are via RSS.

      • WordPress folk claim that they can’t tell if some is reading via RSS unless they subsequently click something on the blog. Not sure that’s entirely accurate, but that was the gist of their reply to my query about RSS stats.

      • Maybe they can’t tell if the view was via RSS, but in no case should it be invisible, i.e. the total number of views should be easily available and would include those coming via RSS. (Of course, perhaps there are multiple views through a proxy server, there will be robots etc but this applies to all web sites.)

      • Of course, someone just viewing the RSS feed itself, without the post or comment behind it, wouldn’t count, but then no-one should count that as a view of the site anyway.

  11. I don’t have any strong feelings re. self-promotion of blog posts. I do however disagree with your statement re. papers:

    “It’s the same with scientific papers, actually. Write good papers and people will find them and cite them. Simples.”

    I really don’t think this is true. There’s so much on astro-ph every day that, in order to get noticed, you have to work hard to promote your work beyond getting it published – at conferences, in seminars etc. Much as I hate having to “retweet” my same old results repeatedly, it seems necessary for making any sort of impact.

    • telescoper Says:

      I don’t keep up with astro-ph all that well, but fortunately my students and postdoc keep telling me about relevant stuff in my field when I’ve missed it.

      I think your statement may be correct for, e.g., instrumentation work for which the primary output isn’t papers but instruments. Also in fields involving large consortia. Here the papers get recognized immediately, but individual researchers need to work hard at self-promotion for their contribution to be noticed.

    • There are many things which determine how quickly a paper is noticed. (Of course, it is usually only when cited that most people notice that it has been noticed.) Colleagues often cite each other’s papers (intentionally or not) instead of papers on similar topics by people they don’t know. Sometimes papers are difficult to understand and/or their importance is not yet clear.

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