Tuesday, 19 June 2012

It's Not a Numbers Game

A funny thing happens when I start to get stressy about writing my next blog.  Once I get the germ of an idea in my head, seemingly unrelated events and interactions start to come together and miraculously align themselves within the emerging theme or themes of the story.  And it's happened again.  Once the idea of 'Numbers' emerged from the fog in my brain, my online life obligingly started lining things up for me.

Numbers and counting have been on my mind for a while now, and I could see a theme emerging which might be worth exploring in more detail.  I've realised that I place a great deal of importance on numerical criteria - dates, deadlines, milestones, anniversaries, (occasionally ROI), totals, bank balances, days to pay day, etc.  I blogged about the personal significance of outliving my Father on my last birthday in December - Age - Appropriate - and I recently posted my 21st blog about my first year of blogging - A Year in the Blogosphere . Shortly thereafter, I also posted my 5,000th tweet.

I recently engaged in a light-hearted exchange with someone in my Twitter network, Holly MacDonald (@sparkandco), which revolved around the number of followers I had in Canada (Holly's Canadian).  Out of a previous discussion, when I ruefully disclosed that my blog stats indicated that I apparently only had one reader in Canada, Holly immediately offered her services as an advocate to launch a campaign to increase the number of my Canadian followers.  We kicked the topic around for a few tweets, recognised that we were 'having a laugh' but when she suggested starting a #followniallgavinuk meme, we agreed that we'd probably gone as far as we needed to in that discussion.

And here's the thing; I had actually started to get really uncomfortable about discussing follower numbers, because I didn't - and don't - want people thinking that that's why I tweet and blog.  If I attract followers to my Twitter stream or blog, I hope it's for the same reasons that I follow other people - that there is something of interest and value in our dialogue and exchange for all of us.

Examples: #1 - Matthew Pearson (@mattpearson) recently posted an excellent blog on the subject of Twitter as a Professional Development Tool http://mattpearson.org/2012/06/01/twitter-as-a-professional-development-tool-love-it-or-hate-it/ .  I commented on that blog, recalling an exchange that he and I had last year and the learning points that we both got from that around immediacy and opinions, and some of the pitfalls of 'shooting from the hip' in such a public arena.  We continue to follow each other with interest.

#2 - Last week, I tweeted that I was going to be in Bracknell for a two day workshop. Immediately John Bartlett (@Projectlibero) tweeted back that it would be good to meet up. We'd never met before, but have followed each other for a couple of months. So I was delighted to get the opportunity to meet up.  We juggled our diaries and arranged to meet in the evening. A short walk to a local hostelry with good beer, a bit of get-to-know-you-better chat and a really useful exchange of ideas and opinions.  As ever, I came away the better for our chat, if not the beer, and have already followed up on a couple of social media tools and contacts recommended by John.

I hope the above gives a flavour of why I think social and informal learning is not a numbers game.  Yes, it's interesting to track things, to note and celebrate milestones - as part of a reflective process - but what I really value are the connections and the community that I find myself a part of, and the learning I get from those interactions.

So, to my 965 Twitter followers, my now 13 blog readers in Canada, my 34 Instagram followers and my 25 Storify subscribers - I hope we continue to share amongst and learn from each other. And if we don't, who's counting anyway?


  1. Niall - I have exactly the same experience with blog writing. Sometimes it needs to cook a little but once you've started it's funny how the resources you need come to hand. I've also found the direction I thought I was taking unexpectedly shifts mostly due to the process of writing the blog. Great fun! What do you think the learning & application is here for leaders?

    The numbers "issue" is also curious... there's a part of me that knows numbers matter. For instance, I have a loose rule that I won't follow more than around 300-350 people on Twitter. Any more than that and I have no hope at all of engaging with them in a meaningful way. Yet my number of followers is what it is at 900-950... maybe my relaxed attitude would be different if I only had 10 followers!

    The other related piece is the number of blog visitors I get from outside UK/Eire - approx. 25% from the US and 25% from rest of the world. Yet I mostly publish blogs on Twitter to what I perceive as a predominantly UK audience - or so I think! I can't fathom it but I appreciate it - the numbers don't matter as such but if they weren't tracked I wouldn't have this insight!

    Beyond the numbers, I love the way strangers will "stand up" and offer their genuine support. So refreshing!

    You can't measure the glorious intangible of human interaction!

  2. Interesting thoughts Niall.

    I had my first Twitter 'date' recently with @macca61 in Central London. I'd tweeted that I was going to be in town and that the coffee was on me if anyone facncied meeting up. I didn't know Neil outside of Twitter and couldn't really think of how we'd gotten connected, but we met up and had a great chat. Turns out we're both in L&D with a shared view that managers need to become coaches and, more importantly, we're both mad @dexys fans and have been salivating online about the new album ever since.

    Not sure this fledgling friendship could ever have occured in the days before the net.

  3. David / Matt,
    Thanks for your time and your comments. Moving the conversations from the virtual into the real world, for me, gives the lie to the whole myth about people spending too much time online and not enough time f2f. All one has to do is reach out. Yes, that takes courage, but at least one is not reaching out blindly.