why blog without an audience?

February 24, 20213 min read

A friend of mine told me she’s interested in starting a blog, but she’s intimidated because she doesn’t know how to get readers. Her worry is predicated on the belief that blogging is only worth it if you have a big audience. I’ve heard a similar sentiment from people who are getting started on Twitter; They’re hesitant to put themselves out there only to hear crickets.

I think social media has warped our perception of what makes something worth doing. I don’t tweet or blog to harvest as many likes as possible. The beauty of social media is that each of those likes represent a real human being who found value in your words. And having a profound effect on just one human being is a soul-tickling feeling, as long as you don’t succumb to the hedonic treadmill and find yourself needing validation from hundreds or thousands of humans.

Another reason not to worry about metrics is that engagement, in the form of likes or comments, only represents a small fraction of people who found your work valuable. Engagement is just the tip of the iceberg because most people on the internet are lurkers. So you probably have more silent fans than you realize.

The friend I mentioned earlier, the one who is uncertain about whether to blog, sometimes posts dance videos. She only has 50 followers, and she told me that she’s worried that with blogging she would also end up with a small fan base. But when I shared my tip-of-the-iceberg theory, she recalled a moment when she was at a concert in Paris and a stranger came up to her and told her they loved her videos. Although she only has 50 ‘official’ followers, I suspect she has many more lurking fans who don’t engage with her by default — unless they run into her at a concert.

I’ve had similar experiences of being at parties and being surprised to learn that someone I am talking to has read and appreciated my writing or tweeting.

Another reason to blog, even with a small audience, is that you’ll meet people through your writing. Writing has lead me to new friends and romantic matches. My co-living house, The Rabbithole, has three co-founders: me, my partner, and someone who reached out to me after reading my tweets and articles. I’ve been pursued for jobs by people who are familiar with me only through my writing.

So I try not to gamify audience-building. I am not optimizing for numbers on the page, but for profound engagement from individuals. Sometimes when I find myself adopting the like-harvesting mindset, I’ll actively remind myself that each like is a real person. I’ll look at who liked my post, I’ll click into each of their profiles. If I received a kind comment or DM, I’ll reread and savor it.

I started a Substack recently. There are less than 10 people on my subscriber list, but the potential energy of that list is immense. One of those subscribers might become a lifelong friend. One of those subscribers might be so affected by something I write that it changes the course of their life.