Early last year I wrote about measuring outcomes. I pondered what I needed to measure to determine “success” in the context of writing, and I concluded that the only thing I could truly measure was how many commitments I kept.
In retrospect, that conclusion was a bit unsatisfying.
I find myself now circling back to the question of numbers – hits, views, “likes”, shares, visits – all of those technology-given metrics that place us on the map of social visibility and viability. All of my friends who create content of any sort for the web (which is pretty much everyone I know, whether they realize it or not) are aware of these tangible intangibles, these mini “scores” that measure degree of “success” in this content-driven world.
And many of these friends are coming to the same realization I am: these measures are an illusion. At best, they provide the short-lived satisfaction of a candy bar at 3 pm. when some cheese and crackers might have been a bit better for me. At worst, they serve as a taunting task-master, holding out a golden ideal that I haven’t quite achieved. “No likes on that post? Has no one seen it, or is it just crap? Oh, only 10 likes now? 50? Not good enough! What, 100 likes? Well, that’s ok, but how come you can’t get 100 retweets? What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with your tribe??”
In all this weird yard-sticking, I get the feeling that I am missing a huge part of the story. What of the reader? I mean the person (that one blessed person) who takes the time to read it – and reads the whole thing, not just the tweetable bits. I’m talking about the one who was too busy to comment or like or retweet, but who read it still, and thought about it – the one who connected with my words, who talked about it later with her BFF, who was haunted by a poem or buoyed by a blog post.
Oh, I don’t know if that actually happens – that invisible connection. Not to any scale. How can you know? What happens in the mind and heart is invisible. And that’s what I mean by the illusion of measurability. Because if that true connection is not happening, then it doesn’t matter how many likes or RTs or Favs I get.
Recently I received a great gift: evidence of connection. I was at a conference which had nothing to do with writing, poetry, or creativity. It wasn’t flooded with the usual blogging suspects, my friendly audience, my poetry tribe. Or at least, I didn’t think so. They were lovely people I know through other parts of my life and connect with via the virtual business card of LinkedIn. In the course of one morning at this event, several individuals told me (on their own, unsolicited) that they read my blog posts via LI. And they *really* read them. i.e. They actually knew what the posts were about. I know, because they told me all about them… without me asking.
Why this came as such a surprise, I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I had my readers pigeon-holed: here are the people who will like to read about poetry, creativity, etc., and here’s everyone else. It was also a surprise because none of these good folks had ever liked, shared, retweeted, or otherwise “virtually” connected with any of my writing. I had no idea they were looking at my words. No idea. Stunning.
Where I’m at with all of this now? I feel the need to create a completely new set of measurements to capture this “evidence of connection.” Forget about the likes and views, and go right for the jugular, the big enchilada of writer-reader value. Here are a few proposed metrics to capture that value:
# of “ah ha moments” (in reader, in writer)
# of spontaneous visible or audible expressions of genuine emotion (e.g. laughter, tears, joyful outbursts, sighs)
# of real conversations (between writer and reader, between readers, between writers)
% of commitments kept / commitments made (by writer, by reader)
% of bridges crossed / bridges attempted
Stuff like that. I don’t know how one would ever begin to capture those metrics, but they feel more important, more on target, for me than how many Favs I get on my next tweet. Because when it’s all said and done, if these words don’t turn on lights, spark conversation, change behavior, or make someone (even – especially – me) braver, what am I playing at?
Kelly Belmonte is a poet, blogger (http://allninemuses.wordpress.com), and management consultant with expertise in non-profit organizational development and youth mentoring. Her first book of poetry, Three Ways of Searching, is available through Finishing Line Press.