Who is My Audience?

I know this is a dumb post, but something has been bugging me all morning about the way I approach my blogging and online life, and I will continue to procrastinate all day unless I just type this out. I am seriously going to make a conscious decision not to blog about blogging, since it is so tedious. But if I am really going to be honest about my life, this is now a big part of it, so I write about it.

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There are moments in human history where there is a fundamental change of paradigm. First, some guy believes that the world is flat, then he gets on a boat, grasping a compass in his hand, and all of a sudden, he goes, “Holy crap, the world is round! WTF!” and his life is never the same. I had a blogging moment like that two days ago when I read this comment on Twitter —

“Your audience is not just your peers. It’s anyone able to google whatever it is you’re writing about.”

The comment came during a online comparison of blogging with other forms of media, such as magazines, movies, and television. We were talking about the FTC decision to fine bloggers if they weren’t transparent about the freebies they received for review.

“Don’t they do this sort of deceptive product placement in magazines and TV shows too?” someone asked.

I made the observation that blogging is different than movies and magazines because I considered my audience to be my peers. If I direct a movie and it plays in your local theater, I assume the audience is there for entertainment and to eat popcorn. I don’t view my audience as fellow filmmakers, unless this event is an industry screening on the Warner Brothers lot.

But maybe I was wrong? If blogging is nothing more than a writing group or a hobby for me, and industry screening, schmoozing with my peers, than what makes it any different than any hobby, like golf or tennis? I would never waste my time playing golf for hours EACH DAY! Should I start viewing my “audience” in a broader sense, so I can feel that all this “work” has some practical value?

I can honestly say that up until now, I have considered my audience to be a very small group of people. These include old friends, commenters, and those who stop by once in a while from Google Reader or their blogroll. I’m sure there are many who come here who I don’t know personally, but for the most part, I figure that I am already following you on Twitter or Facebook. Why else would you come here? Do you even understand what I am talking about when I mention Sophia’s name? Why would you want to read about this guy living in his mother’s home? I operate under the assumption that 4/5 of my hits each day — the bulk of my “readers” — are porn-seekers, Russian marketers, or those who arrived at my site by mistake and will never come back again. I don’t imagine big-shot tech writers or the editors of The New Yorker are secretly reading my blog. My daily views, according to WordPress stats — in the 1000-1200 range, have remained consistent for at least three and a half years. Perhaps this is the reason I have always been such a stick in the mud over advertising. Who am I trying to advertise to — Schmutzie and Ms. Sizzle and V-Grrrl and Danny from Jew Eat Yet? This is my audience. Other bloggers. Nice bloggers who sometimes leave comments more interesting than my post. Perhaps I should view my blog differently — as a product, like a magazine, in competition with YOUR magazine, battling it out in the marketplace. Maybe a paradigm shift is good for me, as well as all of us. Why believe in Adam and Eve when the facts support evolution? Why not just see blogging as the same as magazine writing, book writing, TV show writing — where the aim is to capture an audience and succeed. Why do so many of us see our blogs as so “small” and personal, even if they are small and personal? When people ask me what my blog is about, I usually mumble, “It’s just a personal blog where I ramble on about stuff.”

I know I am not being very clear here, and I am too lazy today to fully explain the wheels spinning in my brain. I have real work to do, and can’t spend too much time playing golf. I probably just think too much, because whichever paradigm I try to align myself with, I have more questions. If blogging is really about self-expression, why is so much attention given to “the best blogs” or “the best blog posts?” If that is the standard, then blogging is a writing competition.

You send out mixed-messages. Write for yourself. But don’t write too much for yourself, and no one will read it. Write well and you will receive love by others. But try to be popular because that is the only way anyone is going to know you exist. Your audience is your peers. Your audience is the general public and you are in competition with your peers for their attention.

Do you see your blog as a personal journal which you write in public, sharing it with your peers, other talented writers, OR something more akin to product placed on the market, in competition with others?

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47 Responses to Who is My Audience?

  1. Rhea says:

    When I started my blog, my goal, honestly, was to find a way to take something I knew how to do (write) and give up my current gig (journalism) to make a living as a self-employed person. So far, I don’t make much $$ from my blog, so I have to ask myself now, four years later, why do I blog? Good question.

  2. Wait. People are actually supposed to READ my blog? Oh no. Now I’m going to have to write something read-able. Y’know if I ever actually write again. Can I still read your blog if I’m not your peer?

  3. V-Grrrl says:

    My blog started out as a personal journal, but after 2.5 years, I changed it so that it revolves mostly around my creative life and less around my experiences. I wanted to reclaim some privacy and push myself artistically. And while I don’t consider myself a poster child for midlife reinvention, I wanted to encourage others to step out of their comfort zones and explore new methods of self expression–to find or uncover a bit of themselves in a creative pursuit or product. When I’ve put up ads, they have been geared toward literary and artistic themes. I don’t do how to articles, I just share what I’m working on or what I’m thinking about or how a piece of art/poetry came to be. I don’t think about my blog being in competition with others as much as I think it’s a unique space with a viewpoint and an audience that reaches farther than I know. It’s a place to foster a community of kindred souls. Who reads it? I see my audience as people who like to think, who question the quality of their lives, who enjoy art and literature on some level, and who are sensitive or passionate.

  4. Neil says:

    How does the competition NOT come into play? If you are trying to get people to read your blog outside of your small circle of friends, you have to grab their eyeballs away from the 100000s of other great blogs out there which offer similar content? I’m not saying you hate these other people — competition can be fun — but doesn’t it require you to promote yourself in competition against others if you start to think about the marketplace?

  5. sassy says:

    My blog is a little place where I spill my guts. I don’t havve 1000 visitors a day. Somedays I don’t have 100. Somedays I don’t have 10. I write when I need to, read who I like,and that’s it. I’ve never been the popular girl in real life, am more of an introvert. I don’t know who I write for. Myself? Some. And then maybe it’s a little squeal out into the internet, a need to connect. I guess I am writing to see if someone can get me, or at least a part of me, and I’ll be just a little less alone.

    Wow, that is a really pathetic comment. Pathetic, but I sincerely mean it.

  6. I blog because it is not there.

  7. Neil says:

    Sassy, not pathetic at all.

  8. I think you’re making a given out of something that is not necessarily a given, and you reiterated it in your comment above. Why, if it’s a product, the focus on competition?

    I’m not asking for me, I’m asking for you. Just think about it for yourself, it might help.

    Mine is both a journal and a product. But I rarely see myself as competing with anyone else. Or, who knows, maybe that’s my own given and I’m the one who needs to think.

  9. Otir says:

    How about seing what we do as sharing? Sharing what is personal to us, or sharing what is driving us. There is room for all sorts of blogs, those whose bloggers want to compete, either for money or for attention, those whose bloggers have an urge to let their opinion voiced, those whose blogger have a need to let out what is broiling, hurting or making them confuse unless they put in words, pictures, images, sounds, whatever it is that is their material.

    Before blogs existed, there were less opportunity to share those forms of expression.

  10. Chantel says:

    Neil, you’ve always shared yourself so openly here. Back when I had something to say so did I. Of course for a moment or two we all get caught up in the competition for readers but it boils down to expressing yourself. It hard to find competition when your only competing with yourself in the end. Right now I’m doing the same so my blog remains silent until I find something else to say.

  11. SciFi Dad says:

    First of all, re: competition – EVERYTHING is a competition; second place is just the first loser, and nobody cares if you tried your best if you win.

    With that being said, my WEEKLY stats are nowhere near your dailies, so calling the people who read my blog “my audience” is a little like calling my wife and kids “my entourage”. Technically accurate, but implies more than reality.

    However, to answer your question, my posts fall into one of three categories:
    1. stuff I am kicking around in my head and/or with my wife about parenting or one of our kids that I want an experienced and/or uninvolved view on
    2. stuff I am thinking that my kids may someday want to know about me since my father was never big on sharing his thoughts
    3. mugging for comments to validate deep-seated feelings of being unpopular when I was younger

    If someone comes there via google, I hope it’s to the type 1 posts and that they find what they’re looking for. The other two? I don’t really think about who reads them.

  12. Gwen says:

    I don’t know how we can find one answer that satisfies every blogger, just like we can’t settle on one religion that satisfies every need. It’s different for everybody. The only person you really have to justify your blog to is yourself. If you’ve got that covered, then I think you’re okay.

    Who is your audience? Your audience is who *you* think it is, because that’s what you hold in your head when you write. Right?

  13. Loukia says:

    I blog because I love to write and the alternative was emailing my friends dozens of times a day. I started blogging when my first born son was 18 months old. He’s now 4, and he has a 20 month old brother so I have a lot to blog about! But I don’t only write about my boys… although they are my entire life… I blog about whatever, whenever. I don’t do it for anything else other than becuase I like to do it, and I love to hear from other people and I love the conenctions that are made. To read a comment from someone I admire in the bloggy world is just awesome. It’s just fun all around.

  14. headbang8 says:

    Neil,

    Couple of points.

    You’ll never get rich advertising to me on your blog. I’m impervious.

    And since the person who discovered the world is round was a Spaniard, he wouldn’t think WTF? Que fornicato, perhaps…

  15. Heather says:

    I will never be a real blogger. I will never be found by the masses. I don’t care. I write for my kids, and to keep family and friends up to date on the ups and (mostly) downs of our life. I twitter, because I sit in doctors offices all day bored to tears. That’s it. YOU are a real writer. People care about you.

  16. Dana says:

    I don’t blog to attract traffic, nor to advertise. I won’t put a badge on. I was “blogging” on a website full of essays before there were commercial blog apps. I always wrote before then, and still write offline. I go on “hiatus” from the blog frequently depending on family situations and whether or not I have something to say. Not even my family reads what I write–they just aren’t into the blog phenomenon. And I don’t care, because their seeing my writing would probably result in all kinds of fights over what I said. Just the way my poetry always seems to light fires that make no sense because they think it’s intended as personal, when I’m almost never writing about them, but a general concept instead. So I hide the poetry.

  17. Headless Mom says:

    First, Gwen is smart. Your audience is who is in your head when you write. Love that.

    Second, and not exactly the answer to your question, but as for me, I would have never considered myself a part of your audience when I first visited you 2 or 3 years ago. (It was before I even had a blog of my own.) Now that I have read you more, and met you I do consider myself a part of your audience even if you don’t think about “me” when you write. You and I have intersecting communities and, to me, that qualifies me to be one of your readers.

    Does that even make sense? Here: in blogland our community is our audience. We read, we comment, we link. So if someone comes by Google, great, but ‘they’ are not who we are writing for.

  18. mamatulip says:

    For the most part, I consider my blog an online journal, a way of writing through losing a parent and grief and becoming a mother and parenting and day to day life.

  19. Jack says:

    I like not having a specific audience. I have written about so many different things there really is something for everyone.

    But I have never written with the idea of marketing it to just one crowd.

    Sometimes I think of doing that. After 5.5 years I know how to make it work. To me blogging is a personal endeavor. It is an exercise that you do because you enjoy it otherwise there is simply no point to it.

  20. I don’t know if I have anything to add to our hour long phone conversation on this topic yesterday. (By the way, it was great to chat again!) Some blogs are written for bloggers. My blog is not – although I delight in the bloggers who do read it. I think the goals of each blogger vary … as do their audiences. But – I’m relatively new to the blogging world, so what do I know?

  21. Terri says:

    Admission: I read your blog as a lurker. You don’t know me, I don’t know you, and I’ve never commented before. I just thought you should know we are out here in the ether and not all of us are crazy, but some might be.

    I wouldn’t ever try to contact you IRL. I am a middle-to-old-age junior high math teacher. Only scary to 12 year olds who didn’t do their homework! I don’t have a blog and can barely keep up with my web pages and email from work.

    So, yeah, some of us read your blog because we like to hear other people’s stories and yours are fun and well written and give us a smile. It’s like listening without ever having to pipe up. My dream conversation, but not well accepted among my peers.

    Signed, a not crazy lurker, but not someone you know

  22. Vicki says:

    I think you raise an important question, one that I can put another way: who are you writing to-your current readers, or your future readers? If you write for current readers, you let your messy hang out-all the stuff about Sophia, your mom, and the fact that you sometimes walk naked around the apartment. If you are writing for new readers, you are trying to court them, so you write about poigniant things like how writing impacts your life or how the fading of Hello Kitty affects you. We all have these moments-sometimes we write something we want our current readers to read, sometimes when we want new people to stumble upon. I look at my blog as something anyone at all can access at any time, particularly because my name is my URL, which is scary sometimes, so I can’t be as personal as I want. But I always try to have something interesting with a take-away.

  23. Lou P. says:

    You might be surprised at who ends up reading what you write online. You’ve maintained your reader base, I suspect, because you write both articulately and with good humor.

  24. Jane says:

    I’m relatively new to Blog World and I find your question interesting. I don’t exactly obsess about the stats but I’m consistently amazed by which posts garner the most comments or reads. Sometimes when I write for the perceived audience my readership soars. Sometimes, not so much. But I find I come up with the best stuff (in my opinion)when I pretend that there is no audience at all.

  25. Di says:

    I don’t like to think heavy thoughts so I just don’t think about why I blog. I just do. Reading other blogs is nothing more than a form of cheap entertainment. Actually, free entertainment. Does there have to be a reason for everything in life? Of course not. Well, not in my world anyway.

  26. i don’t know what my blog is, i don’t think it fits into any category, it’s just there. sometimes i write something, most times i don’t, i have absolutely no interest in any readership, it’s certainly not the reason i started a blog.

  27. If we’re going to compete, I would way prefer to have an arm wrestling match. Maybe at that diner you write about?? Or even Mickey D’s. I might have a shot at that:>)

  28. Heather says:

    I started writing, 5 years ago, to just have an outlet. My family & friends were tired of hearing me, and “dealing”, and I needed a way to “heal”, so I started blogging. It has become so much more than that.

    I think for me, now? I blog because it’s really good for me to get whats in my head, out. Whether people read it or not, is up to them. I have a voice, a voice that I feel needs to be heard at times, so at this point, if I end up touching someone along the way?

    Even better.

  29. mamie says:

    i started reading here because of sweetsalty kate and i have loved ‘hearing’ you in all the ways you write. my blog is very quiet, in part because i want it to be.

    i once wrote a lot about new mamahood and my twins. now, they phase in and out and i feel like i post randomly about making things, making it through things (like toddlerhood) and the occasional sharing of stories and dreams and other schmutz. i think my lack of focus keeps my blog from becoming more..to me or others. i do seem to be a big hit with the grandmother set…a lot of my friends tell me their moms read my blog. not sure what that says about me.

    and this may sound awfully morbid, but it leaves a bit of me in google forever and if i were not to be here when my boys grow up, they can find what i wrote(write) and know me a bit that way (such is the mind of a scorpio that has worked surrounded by dying for a long time).

    i find your lack of advertising and other things of that ilk refreshing. i would be sad if you launched into the world of blogger as marketer and promoter of all things. just do the interview thing instead, okay?

  30. Pearl says:

    Blogging for nearly 5 years has proven to be an extension of my creative writing, an outlet for my humor or for my heartfelt feelings or simple observations about life and people.

    I do hold back, though. A lot. I feel the need to write about things near and dear, but it doesn’t come. Maybe my subconscious doesn’t want to share my innermost thoughts with some strangers and some newfound friends/acquaintances. Maybe a public blog is not the forum for everything; maybe a lined notebook and my scrawl on its pages is supposed to be the mediuam.
    But all in all, I’ve created some posts that please me, I’ve created some poetry that has been published, and I’ve created an extension of me.

  31. Avitable says:

    90% of my blog is for my audience – for anyone who stumbles across it. I write humor and expect that to be able to be received by anyone who searches for it. The other 10% I write for myself and expect that the only people who read it will be the people with whom I’ve developed relationships over the last five or so years.

  32. flutter says:

    I think mine is the best and the worst of me.

  33. Quadelle says:

    I started my blog 10 months ago to keep family and friends who live on the other side of the world updated, and in the process have made more friends, which I’ve really enjoyed. Very recently the photos on my blogs have led to people hiring me for photography, which is something I did not remotely anticipate when I started blogging.

    By the way, I read you because you’re interesting, likeable and real. I don’t mind the randomness of your topics because I think that’s what life is like – full of varied thoughts, interests, motivations and observations.

  34. Caitlin says:

    I have read and do believe that you should write for just one person. When you try to please too many people, you lose your voice and your focus. When you are focused and intent on pleasing just that one person, you’ll find that you attract others as well because you come across more honestly.

    I am not a focused person, so I am no example.

  35. lizardek says:

    I don’t think a journal you write in public can really be considered a personal one, other than the fact that it’s yours. I think of mine as a public journal. Not product placement.

  36. Mbdiamond says:

    I blog for me… to vent… to remember someday how I was thinking now. And my “readership” includes only family and close friends. The thought of competition with other blogs has never entered my mind. I found you through another blog I read, and liked what I read… you do write humerously, and that’s a big something I look for in blogs I follow – just a little window into a stranger’s life, and maybe a few chuckles along the way ;)

  37. Chris says:

    I don’t think this is a dumb post. At all. I have these thoughts too.

    I don’t see my blog as a personal journal or a product that’s in competition with others. I see it more as a place where I carefully practice having an audience, where I play with different styles or topics. [Mostly inspired by your variety of writing, Neil. True.] A place where I practice doing something that I’ve always enjoyed but have never put my money where my mouth is, and a place where I can learn to have thicker skin. I’m sensitive.

    I’m glad you got this off your chest. I liked it. I like you.

  38. Danny says:

    I don’t consider my blog a “personal journal” but I definitely do see it as self-expression. I don’t feel like I’m competing with others at all (but I am quite capable of snarky comments about “famous” bloggers) and the minute I felt I was trying to attract more readers is the minute I would stop blogging. I write only what I WANT to write about and that is a glorious freedom I’ll never give up, even if I one day create a different website just to make money (if I could ever figure out how to do that).

  39. Neil says:

    If everyone isn’t competitive, why does everyone compete for blog awards?

  40. Danny says:

    But they don’t. What is more meaningless than a blogging award? (No offense, anyone!)

  41. Corina says:

    Neil,

    This post makes me love you and hate you. I don’t know why I write what I do, but I think that we talked about this before, I would like to be read. I don’t need to be popular, never did. And huge stats don’t matter to me. I just would like to be read by more than my best friends and those tricked to believe that somehow I am relevant.

    Because otherwise, why share it? Why not just write it in a journal and be done with it? Why put it out there for the world to see?

    And furthermore, I want to be relevant. I want someone to realize I have something to bring to the table. I don’t have to rule the world, really, I am not that kind of girl. I am not competitive in the way that I feel like I have to claw over people to get to the top. I can’t think that way. But occasionally, I need to say something, whether it has to do with depression or anxiety or education or addictions or peace or……. And you know what, I want to share, I want people to read it and to take something away from it.

    I am not the typical competitive person, even though i am competitive.
    But competitive in the way that others make me want to do better and be better than I am. I use them as an example to push me into being better.

    I love this post and it comments because … well, yes. And I hate this post and its comments because… well, yes. It made me think, doubt, confirm, and wonder what the hell I am doing. It makes me want to scream from the rooftops or break down and cry. But that just might be the type of week I am having. Maybe I just need to wrap a warm and fuzzy blanket around my daily audience of 80 on a good day, and retreat. We can all sit around drinking tea or wine and it will be enough. Because it has to be.

  42. Noel says:

    The movie-goer, the TV-watcher and the blog-reader are no different. All are seeking entertainment, in different forms. We read this blog because we are entertained by what you write. Those who aren’t entertained click on and vanish. Those who comment are a tiny subset of readers; they are those who enjoy commenting on blogs, as well as reading them. They may or may not be representative of the whole readership. I don’t believe that advertising will reduce the numbers.
    But I wish you would stop worrying about your quantity of readers. This isn’t Hollywood, where audience size has fiscal significance. So, I would hope that blog-writing serves as a respite from the what-will-please-the-largest-audience screenwriting you do.

  43. girlvaughn says:

    My blog was started because I was tired of boring my friends with emails and texts of random silly thoughts… so it’s more of a journal. Although I have another blog that is an ACTUAL journal and private so no one else can read it. Between the two blogs I get out about 17% of the nonsense in my mind.

  44. dk says:

    Thw Who read your blog? Tres chic! C’est bon! Let the peasants rejoice.

    Sorry long day.

    Cheers

  45. Deidre says:

    I write my blog because I love to write. Having people read it, is just a nice touch. I do have adds because I am hoping someday my blog can pay for the price of the domain name…But I fear that is far off.

  46. Annie says:

    Neil, you worry too much. Just write what you want. The contest is in your head. I write because I love the people I meet doing it, I like to share my art and ideas. Sometimes I worry that I am boring, but so what? We can’t all be exciting, all the time. You write a good blog. We love you. xoxo

  47. Stacey says:

    I see my blog as a place to write whatever I need to get out of my head. Some posts are more intense and personal than others. I feel I have a very small audience, which actually helps me be more authentic. If I had a ton of visitors, I’d be self conscious. So many more people to offend. And I certainly don’t write for the Google users. They probably aren’t looking for what I have to say anyway.

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