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Blogging, Business of Writing, The Writer's Life

The Naked Truth About My Phantom Followers

Posting early this week due to travel schedule…

If you look at the top right of my home page, you’ll notice it says, “Join 7,070 other followers.” That’s a lot of folks. But there is a corporate marketing aspect to that figure, which is basically that by inflating the number of followers, more people will be influenced to follow, and the blogger (namely, me) will be encouraged to keep posting.

So in truth, of my 7,000-plus “followers,” about 6,000 of them are Twitter connections. Another 300 or so are Facebook friends, and maybe 200 are connections on LinkedIn.

So what’s the real number of followers?

I’ve been receiving one to three direct email signups a day for the last couple of months. How people find me I don’t know, although I’m glad they do—for the most part. A couple of mornings ago I noticed the message area on my blog sported a tiny icon of a trophy. When I clicked, I got this: “You’ve gotten 500 follows on The Saturday Morning Post. Apart from the bad grammar, it tells me that the actual number of people who have taken the time to opt-in, to say, yeah, I want to read this guy’s stuff, is 500. Still sounds fairly cool.

Just who are these people? Aside from those of you who comment each week (some of whom I know personally, others only in virtual form), I have not met or communicated with most. All I know about them is what comes in the email each time someone signs up. Most of the time the message includes links to the follower’s gravatar and posts they’ve written. This lets me know the person is a writer or at least interested in writing. And a big thanks to all of those people for following.

But sometimes the follower is suspect. In those cases there are no posts, and the link to the gravatar’s About area is blank. So I can’t help wondering what’s up when “vietnamhoneymoon85” and “meemeelemons” and “creditototal” sign up. Those usernames don’t sound like writers to me. Occasionally a suspect follower has a post, such as eva2006na, whose link to Dioriffic !!! revealed this: “Dior make up explained…”

Could it be my phantom followers want to—OMG—spam me, use my blog to sleazily market their wares? I usually delete 10-20 of their thinly disguised “comments” that are flagged as spam after each of my posts—and which always include a link to a site where you can buy shoes, or smartphones, or a Vietnam honeymoon.

So I continue to wonder about the nature of this blogging adventure. Who are my followers and why have they followed? The answer, I’d say, is like the internet itself, which of course is to say like life itself—sometimes honest, sometimes murky, always changing, and never to be completely understood.


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


18 thoughts on “The Naked Truth About My Phantom Followers

  1. Well, Joe, it just goes to show ya…it’s always somethin’…. :-] The digital age has really stretched the definition of ethics, all in the name of the almighty dollar. And just because you CAN do something does not mean you SHOULD. Privacy? Go talk with Verizon, Google. It’s “just” metadata, maaan. As long as we (those who have the power to “push back”) all keep allowing this crap to go on, it will. Sigh.

    BTW, I think you’ll find me listed under “goodtimefranksellgreatswatches.”

    Posted by fpdorchak | June 8, 2013, 12:08 PM
    • Or go talk with the Obama administration about privacy–if you don’t mind the NSA listening in. And there are a lot of things people need to push back on but don’t–the old “I’m doing okay so why rock the boat” philosophy.

      Posted by jpon | June 9, 2013, 10:55 AM
  2. Hi, Joe. A number of months back, I began to notice that WordPress.com’s filter against spam wasn’t working the same way: whereas previously before I had been able to rely totally on it to catch all spam, suddenly some of the sorts of ads you talk about were getting through onto my site. When I queried them about it, a responder finally admitted that yes, it was possible that some spam was getting past Akismet now, due to the fact that spammers are on learning curves just like everything else on the Internet: just as Akismet gets smarter, so do the spammers. So, the best thing you can do is not actually to delete the spam, but to mark it as spam and let Akismet deal with it, because that way Akismet learns to recognize the “new” spam style. I hope this helps: recently, a few days after seeing an ad about cars appear on a few other sites, I suddenly found it appearing on my own. It’s just one of the privilege-right-responsibility interconnects of the Internet. Good luck.

    Posted by shadowoperator | June 8, 2013, 1:00 PM
    • How apropos. Would you believe the comment I received after yours was spam–for used cars. You are right about Akismet. For a while it caught just about every spam comment, but lately it’s been letting some get through (fortunately I have my settings so that I must approve first comments from anyone). I had been trashing the new spam, but now that you’ve set me straight I will mark them as spam. And the purveyance of the ad world into ours is almost not to be believed. You visit a site to check out something and you get hammered with ads for it elsewhere. For example, my wife recently leased a VW, and in researching the models we looked at the VW web site several times. That was a month ago and I’m still seeing VW ads in my web travels. Some people (especially those weaned on mass marketing) don’t see anything wrong with this. But this is the new Big Brother–a kinder, gentler master who rules by coercion and saturation marketing.

      Posted by jpon | June 9, 2013, 11:04 AM
      • This dialog is valuable to me as the editor of the NILA student website. And I have noticed a kind of “They think your site is awesome, why not check out theirs?!!” at first I accepted them, now I will spam the majority of them. The few times I did check out these ‘awesome’ sites, they were thin at best. Great post.

        Posted by whidbeystudents | June 12, 2013, 4:01 AM
      • You’re editing the NILA site? Congrats. I hope it’s a fun job. Sounds like an awesome site. I will have to check it out. :-)

        Posted by jpon | June 12, 2013, 10:01 AM
  3. I have to admit I’m not crazy about social media’s insistence on statistics. I’ve disabled those fields on my blog and I rarely look at my stats page because, like you, I’m not sure what I should be gleaning from those numbers. If my stats were high, they’d encourage me to try to replicate my success, which is creatively unhelpful; if low, they’d make me feel even more friendless than I actually am. Either way, I’ve decided it’s better not to know.

    Posted by Averil Dean | June 8, 2013, 2:50 PM
    • …especially statistics as deliberately misleading as the ones WordPress posts. It does look good on a query letter, though. But I’m careful to say “social media followers,” rather “followers” or even “fans.” I assume agents and editors understand the difference. Oh, when will I learn to abandon any sense of decency and just promote, promote, promote?!

      btw, I’m familiar with the comments area on your blog–you are far from friendless.

      Posted by jpon | June 9, 2013, 11:14 AM
  4. They may be phantom, but they’re pretty creative with their names. : )

    Posted by Darrelyn Saloom | June 8, 2013, 3:00 PM
    • And apparently they are at least looking at the blog once in a while. I just checked my stats and noticed that I had two views today from Vietnam. So I guess vietnamhoneymoon 85 is watching.

      Posted by jpon | June 9, 2013, 11:19 AM
  5. Blog của bạn là rất tuyệt vời. Có lẽ bạn sẽ mua một chiếc Volvo năm 2009? Thăm sử dụng Ô tô Bắp của! Việt Nam Honeymoon85.

    Posted by Jon Zech | June 9, 2013, 1:51 PM
  6. But people like to know that many others like what they like. Validation and crowd mentality, you know. So I’m not shy about touting the number of visits to my podcasts, even though not all of them listen all the way to the end of the episode. Same with my book. I don’t care if you use it as a door stop, as long as you buy it. (That’s a lie. That would probably hurt my feelings.)

    Posted by Jon Zech | June 9, 2013, 2:02 PM
  7. I started following you through my WordPress reader. I look forward to your posts each week, because you always have valuable information about the industry to share. I’ve often wondered about the Phantom Followers as well. At present I have around 300 followers by way of email and WordPress, but who knows what that means. I interact with a handful of these followers regularly, swapping comments and reading their posts.

    Current industry wisdom suggests writers establish an online presence, and to that end, everyone must have a blog. I’ve certainly enjoyed the experience. But can’t help pondering what the long term value of blogging is, when I’m one in a billion. Thanks for another thought-provoking post.

    Posted by Gwen | June 9, 2013, 3:01 PM
    • Thanks, Gwen. I wish there was a way to find out from these followers why they signed up to follow. Some are obviously spammers, but the vast majority appear to be sincere people who are writers or interested in writing. Yet they almost never comment.

      Posted by jpon | June 10, 2013, 12:17 AM
  8. For the record, I am not a phantom (I don’t think) and I’m proud to follow your blog!

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | June 10, 2013, 3:47 AM

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